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Breaking news & local stories from Camden City, Berlin, Laurel Springs and more

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    Charlette Dawkins died in March 2017. "She liked tiaras, but she liked to dress up like Batman," her grandmother said.

    Until she died on March 14, 2017, Charlette Dawkins was a happy three-year-old with a big smile, bright blond hair, and a passion for princesses and super heroes.

    "She liked tiaras, but she liked to dress up like Batman," said her grandmother, Renay Rodriguez. "Everyone who met her loved her."

    And ever since Charlette died, Rodriguez has been waiting. Waiting to see police arrest Travis W. Graham, her daughter's boyfriend, who told everyone that Charlette ended up unresponsive that day after she fell down the stairs.

    Now, according to authorities, Rodriquez won't have to wait much longer.

    The Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which has been investigating Charlette's death for 16 months, said Graham, 22, will be facing homicide charges in the coming weeks.

    He is currently being held on charges related to several armed robberies, following a detention hearing Friday.

    "It's anticipated, not next week but the following week, when the medical examiner returns, that the defendant's going to be charged with homicide of a 3-year-old little girl that occurred on March 13, 2017," Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah told Judge John T. Kelley in Superior Court in Camden during Friday's hearing.

    Bill Townsend, chief of detectives in the prosecutor's office, said the charges come after "promising developments in the Charlette Dawkins death investigation."

    For Rodriguez - who had been talking with the prosecutor's office for over a year, asking when Graham would be arrested - Shah's words created an intense moment when she heard them uttered in court.

    "It was relief, shock, and trying to hold it together," she said.

    Rodriguez said her husband couldn't help clapping a few times, despite the somber courtroom.

    dawkinsCharlette Dawkins (Provided photos) 

    "Her injuries were so extensive, there's no way she fell down the stairs," Rodriguez said in a phone interview Friday.

    The nature of her injuries seems to have been an issue from the start.

    Rodriguez said her cause of death was blunt force head trauma, but Townsend said it had not yet been officially ruled a homicide by the medical examiner -- hence his office could only confirm it was a "death investigation.

    Shah's mention of the medical examiner suggests that that determination could be the missing piece.

    Townsend said his investigators are "awaiting documentation from another agency" before pressing charges, but he declined to specify which agency.

    The state Department of Children and Families is required to release some information on child deaths that are caused by abuse or neglect. Charlette's death, a spokeswoman for the child welfare agency said earlier this week, did not meet the neglect or abuse criteria, so no details would be released.

    charlette superheros.jpgRenay Rodriguez said her granddaughter, Charlette Dawkins, 3, loved superheroes. (Provided)

    Rodriguez said she has known Graham since he was young because he grew up in Washington Township in Gloucester County, where she still lives.

    She estimated her daughter, who has since married Graham, started dating him in summer of 2016, when Charlette was 2 years old.

    "She was fun-loving," Rodriguez said of Charlette. "If you met her you fell in love with her in a minute."

    Rodriguez got lots of time with her granddaughter until January of 2017. That's when she confronted her daughter about a bruise on Charlette, and her daughter cut off contact, she said.

    Then on March 13, 2017, she said she got a call that Charlette was unresponsive and being airlifted from one hospital to another. She was pronounced dead March 14, but kept on life support for several days so the girl's organs could be donated, Rodriguez said.

    "I had my suspicions," she said, about the story about the fall down the stairs. She felt her suspicions were confirmed when detectives from the prosecutor's office showed up at the hospital.

    But it's been 16 months, and despite regular contact with the prosecutor's office, Rodriguez said it hasn't been easy to stay patient while Graham remained free.

    Graham was ultimately arrested and charged on five different armed robberies.

    He was in court Friday for a detention hearing for three armed robberies in Gloucester Township, but Shah said he'd already been ordered held pending trial on an earlier armed robbery charge from Salem County. And he had previously been released on an earlier armed robbery charge from Gloucester County, she said.

    graham.jpgGloucester Twp. police said Travis Graham was identified as an armed robber from this surveillance footage. 

    Graham agreed to be held on the Camden County charges, his attorney, Amy Rivas, said in court Friday.

    She did not comment in court on Shah's statement that Graham would face homicide charges, and she could not be reached late Friday afternoon.

    In the Gloucester Township armed robberies, Graham is accused of robbing a Pantry One store with an air soft gun Feb. 3, 2017; wielding a knife while robbing the Pine Run Deli June 27; and driving the getaway car while his co-defendant, Brian Smith, 32, of Washington Township, robbed the Pine Run Deli Jan. 24, with an air soft gun.

    On the criminal complaints for two of the incidents, Gloucester Township Det. Joseph Cerquoni noted that the charges were based partly on a recorded interview with Graham.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    The Campbell Soup company archives tells the story of nearly 150 years of business.


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    Each of New Jersey's 21 counties is governed by a board of chosen freeholders. The number of members on the boards vary from three to nine.


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    Pets throughout the state await adoption from shelters and rescues.

    If you're interested in helping homeless animals but aren't able to adopt one, there are a number of other ways you can be of assistance.

    Realistically, not everyone can adopt. People who live in apartments or developments that have no-pets policies fall into that category, as do people with allergies or disabilities that will not allow them to care for pets of their own. Here are some suggestions for ways people who want to help can participate in caring for homeless animals.

    * Help out at a local shelter. It's not glamorous work by any means, but it's vital and will be very much appreciated. You can do anything from help walk dogs to bottle feed kittens, help clean kennels or cat's cages or even help with bathing and grooming. Contact your local shelter to find out their policies regarding volunteers.

    * If you're handy, you can lend a hand in many ways. Shelters usually need repairs of many kinds, so fixer-uppers can help out like that. If you sew, quilt or crochet, you can make blankets for your local shelter.

    * Help out at an adoption event. Many shelters and rescue groups participate in local events by hosting a table with pets available for adoption. They also hold these program at malls, pet supply stores and banks, and can always use a helping hand.

    * For galleries like this one and for online adoptions sites, often a shelter or rescue group doesn't have the time or equipment to shoot good photos of their adoptable pets. Something as simple as making yourself available to shoot and provide digital files of pet photos can be a big help.

    * Donate. It doesn't have to be money; shelters need cleaning supplies, pet food, toys for the animals and often even things we don't think twice about getting rid of like old towels and newspapers. Every little bit helps.

    If you don't know where your local animal shelter or rescue group is, a quick online search will reveal a number of results. It doesn't take a lot of time or effort to get involved but it provides immeasurable assistance.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    A just-released analysis of New Jersey's generous business tax incentive programs does not answer the central question about them.

    Gov. Phil Murphy demanded it, and now he's got it: a study of New Jersey's business incentive programs, as a response to many critics who claimed the state is needlessly giving away the store.

    Unfortunately the 100-plus page report doesn't come to any absolute conclusion about whether $5.4 billion in tax credits and other goodies awarded in the past few years are "worth it." 

    Murphy's not on the hook personally for the policies that led the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and other conduits to ramp up their largesse in recent years. It mostly occurred under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie, with the encouragement of South Jersey Democratic lawmakers like state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucster, and U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st, Dist. a former state senator.

    These lawmakers in particular WILL be on the hook if these incentives turn out to be a flop. Their GROW NJ legislation steered EDA approvals toward South Jersey, and especially Camden City, mainly through relaxed qualifications.

    It does help that there is now an unbiased accounting of the "per job" dollar amounts that loss of potential business tax payments represent. Surprisingly, statewide, the revenue lost for each newly created job is a modest $7,650. For each "retained" job, it's even less at $3,670. 

    However, one figure sticks out like a sore thumb -- or, more precisely, a sore handout. In Camden City alone, where developers have received an estimated $1.4 million in incentives, the annual cost to taxpayers for each newly created job explodes to $34,000. It's a lot harder to make an economic justification at that lofty level, even if Camden's shredded economy deserved much more attention than it previously received with these tools.

    Study authors are concerned that some of the incentives might be more generous than what statutes intended, citing in particular a GROW NJ bonus structure that could duplicate some incentives. The Camden incentives, for example, are not as strictly linked to added jobs as those elsewhere in the state.

    It's fair to say that foes of tax-incentive programs demagogue them. New Jersey has not "lost" anything like $5.4 billion in real revenue. Most of this amount is future offsets of corporate/business taxes over 10 years. If the state were to cancel the programs immediately, it wouldn't free up $540 million to inject into the next state budget. Almost none of this money is currently owed. Any budget that claims otherwise just compounds the creative accounting that arrives before every July 1 fiscal deadline. 

    It's disappointing that the study did not examine where the tax-credit-influenced jobs are coming from when they stream into Camden, Atlantic City, Jersey City, etc. A common complaint of suburban mayors is that "retained" positions are mostly being poached from nearby Cherry Hill, Evesham Township, Voorhees Township, Folsom Borough, etc. when corporate headquarters are induced to relocate. Is there no negative impact on towns that lost the jobs?

    As the report indicates, it's impossible to know for sure how these tax breaks will fare long-term when so many recent grants have, to date, yielded only excavation sites and half-finished buildings. Nobody works in the corner office of a building frame. That is all the more reason for closer monitoring of GROW NJ and other EDA programs, with assurances that employment and economic expansion calculations used for awards are fully realistic. If Gov. Murphy is not satisfied that they are, he should call for a moratorium on new tax credit approvals until the criteria are in proper shape.

    Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at sjletters@njadvancemedia.com

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    Spending 32 days in the hospital isn't how Kenny Thomas imagined his family's summer. But on Saturday, he got some good news: His 15-month-old son, Kristian, would be going home. Watch video

    Spending 32 days in the children's hospital isn't how Kenny Thomas imagined his family's summer. 

    But on Saturday, he got some good news: His 15-month-old son, Kristian, would be going back home to Merchantville for the week after a month of chemotherapy and tests. 

    That, he thought, was worth dancing for. And Kristian seemed to agree. 

    The two bust out the moves to Ciara's "Level Up" in a sweet video that has since gone viral on Instagram, garnering more than 2 million views, thousands of comments and a repost from Ciara herself. 

    It's a bright moment for the family in a month that's been full of strain, but dotted with Thomas's dance moves and hopeful turnarounds in Kristian's health. 

    Kristian, who was born with Down syndrome and a blood disorder that made him more susceptible to developing leukemia, was diagnosed with the cancer last month and admitted to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Thomas said. 

    "The doctors told us that he could develop leukemia. We just didn't think it would be this soon," Thomas told NJ Advance Media in a phone call Tuesday. "We were praying that it didn't happen, but it did. From there, I kind of went into quarterback mode for my family." 

    Dancing was a natural part of taking care of Kristian for Thomas, who runs a studio in Pennsauken called The Level Dance Complex along with his wife, Josilyne. Together, they have three other children ages 16, 9 and 4. 

    On Saturday, the toddler's absolute neutrophil count (ANC) levels were up, meaning his immune system was strong enough to let him go back home with his family. That prompted the celebratory "Level Up" dance, which is also a nod to his studio's name. 

    He's been dancing for Kristian well throughout his hospital stay, using the routines both to practice his craft and keep his son entertained. 

    "I just want to keep him as calm and happy at all times, to continue the positive energy," Thomas said. He added that Kristian isn't "showing any signs of weakness. I think the type of atmosphere we're setting for him is very important." 

    Kristian's fight isn't over. He still needs other rounds of chemotherapy, and will see a doctor again this week. 

    Until then, the family is enjoying being together and keeping the dance studio in order. Summer camp offerings there were canceled, and the family is still juggling household expenses along with hospital bills. They're collecting donations via their studio's website, and have raised just over $11,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. 

    To donate to Kristian's fight, click here

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at ahoover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find NJ.com on Facebook

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    Charlie Puth, of Rumson, is the guy who un-ironically plays keytar and the guy who takes his shirt off in front of 10,000 people.


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    The second-prize winning Mega Millions tickets were sold in Warren and Camden counties for Tuesday's drawing


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    Two people died and two others were injured Wednesday night in a crash involving a sedan and an SUV in Berlin, police said.

    Two people died and two others were injured Wednesday night in a crash involving a car and an SUV in Berlin, police said.

    Berlin Police Sgt. T.J. Varano said the accident happened at 5 p.m. at the intersection of White Horse Pike and Ellis Avenue.

    Varano said the two occupants of the car were pronounced dead at the scene. He said he could not release their names Wednesday night.

    The two people inside an SUV were taken to the hospital and were in stable condition as of 8:15 p.m., police said.

    Varano said the accident was under investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and that there were no other details he could share Wednesday.

    Chris Sheldon may be reached at csheldon@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrisrsheldon Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    So many things taste that much better with summer in front of them.

    2016-icecream003-vineland.JPG 

    A couple of years ago, I wrote in a caption to this photo that was a part of this gallery about how my friends and I would hold little naval battles in the stream behind the Dairy Queen in Vineland with the boat-shaped plastic dishes banana splits came in.

    Some people expressed a level of disbelief; you actually did that, Greg? Of course we did.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    Frozen custard on a hot summer evening; a boat-shaped container holding the tasty treat; a convenient stream a few feet away that boats would float in; and a trash can to put them all in after the 'battle' was over.

    If that doesn't define 'serendipitous,' nothing does.

    Here's a gallery of vintage photos of summer eats and treats from around New Jersey and links to other galleries you'll enjoy.

    Vintage photos of summer eats and treats in N.J.

    Vintage photos of ice cream and candy stores in N.J.

    Vintage photos of ice cream parlors in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Eastern has quite an impressive athletic resume, but who are the top four in school history?


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    The $30,000 tickets were both sold in South Jersey


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    The suspects are charged with burglaries on New Road, Poor Farm Road, Valley Road, Maddock Road and Dublin Road

    Hopewell Township police have charged two Camden County residents with multiple counts of burglary and theft for breaking into several homes in the past month.

    The department on Friday announced charges against Santiago Ramos, 28, of Camden and Denise Dubois, 40, of Mount Ephraim.

    Detective Joseph Maccaquano charged a third person, but police did not reveal the suspect's name. A U.S. Marshals' task force for is helping in a search for the suspect, Police Chief Lance Maloney said.

    The three suspects are charged with burglaries on New Road, Poor Farm Road, Valley Road, Maddock Road and Dublin Road.

    Earlier this month, Hopewell Township police said they'd been hit with a string of residential burglaries, and residents had twice come across suspicious people on their properties. And in once case, police officers pursued a suspect vehicle from the town onto Interstate 295, but it got away.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Find out which schools have the highest average SAT score in your area.


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    The crash killed one passenger but the live wires did not harm anyone. The SUV's driver is now in custody.

    A man was killed when an SUV crashed into a utility pole and knocked live wires onto a road Saturday morning.

    And police say the driver in the single-vehicle crash is now in custody.

    The crash occurred around 3:30 a.m. at Admiral Wilson Boulevard and Linden Street in Camden, county police spokesman Dan Keashen said. The Ford Explorer with three occupants hit a utility pole which crashed into the roadway and damaged another vehicle, a Camden County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman said. The driver of that vehicle was uninjured, she added.

    A 43-year-old Camden man in the Explorer's front passenger seat was pronounced dead at the scene. Another passenger, a 31-year-old woman from Deptford, did not need medical attention. 

    The driver, a 41-year-old Camden man, is in police custody, Keashen said. Authorities have not yet identified the driver nor have they indicated if he will be criminally charged.

    The crash shut down Admiral Wilson Boulevard in both directions until a PSE&G crew arrived and workers from the state Department of Transportation set up a detour. 

    The wires did not hurt anyone, Keashen said.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    This is the fifth and final trip report in our search for N.J.'s best hot dog joint.


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    The incident was reported in Mount Ephraim on Sunday.

    All southbound lanes on I-295 were closed Sunday after police reports indicated there was a man on an overpass bridge threatening to jump.

    New Jersey State Police trooper Alejandro Goez said the southbound lanes and one northbound lane on I-295 were closed at Exit 28 from 10 a.m to 11:30 a.m. after state police received a call for a "well being" check on the roadway by Mount Ephraim, Camden County police

    Southbound traffic was detoured off the highway. It was not immediately reported if Route 168, the Black Horse Pike, was also closed.

    Goez said local police were in charge of the investigation. A call to Mount Ephraim police Sunday for comment was not immediately returned.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    A building official said the roof fell through all three stories.

    The collapse of the roof of a vacant three-story apartment building in Camden Sunday also brought down two entire stories of the structure at the building's rear, city first-responders and officials said.

    No one was injured in the collapse, which occurred at Broadway and Viola streets in the Waterfront South section of the city shortly after 1 p.m.

    A man who identified himself as a city building inspector, but declined to give his name to a reporter, told police that Broadway, a key artery into the heart of downtown Camden, would need to be closed to traffic at the intersection until the condition of the remaining brick structure could be fully evaluated. Another worker flew a drone over the building to evaluate the damage.

    "It just gave way," said a man who said he had lived in the neighborhood for 45 years but also declined to give his name. "No clue, no nothing. You can't see what's going on on the roof."

    Neighbors said the building had been empty for the past decade. It appeared to be well kept, with windowed covered with bright blue planks of plywood and a metal fire escape on the side of the building still intact.

    The building official said the roof had fallen through three stories of the structure and crack were visible in the front of the facade.

    "It could last another six months or only another six minutes," he said.

    The building sits at the corner of the street attached to an adjacent brick two-story home and a Chinese restaurant, that remained open Sunday afternoon.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

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    Animals throughout New Jersey await adoption at shelters and rescues.

    There's summer heat, and then there's oppressive summer heat.

    We've experienced some of the latter recently, and while we do everything we can to keep ourselves cool, it's important to remember our pets as well.

    "If it's hot to you it's just as hot for your dog or cat, and probably even worse," said John Gickling, a board certified veterinarian in emergency and critical care. "We're better equipped to handle the heat because we perspire."

    Some tips on making sure your pets can deal with excessive heat:

    * If you walk your dog, pick the coolest time of the day, follow a shady route and bring water for your pet.

    * Older pets, overweight animals and dogs with short snouts suffer more in high heat.

    * If your pet is outdoors, make sure it has a cool place to lay and that water is always available. Avoid taking your pets anywhere that has concrete or blacktop until temperatures normalize.

    * Dogs may be overheating if they can't get up, aren't alert or can't stop panting. If you suspect overheating, hose your dog off but never use ice water, which worsens the situation. If this doesn't work, a visit to a veterinarian is important.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at greghatalagalleries@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Police are asking anyone with information about the incident to come forward

    A shooting Monday morning took the life of a young Camden man and injured a second man from Glassboro, authorities said. No arrests were reported Monday evening.

    The Camden County Prosecutor's Office described the victims only as a 19-year-old Camden man and an 18-year-old Glassboro man.

    "The names of the victims are not immediately being released due to the active investigation into the shooting," the office said in a release Monday afternoon.

    Officers from the Camden County Police Department discovered the wounded men at 7:43 a.m. in the area of 4th Street and Kaighn Avenue, after getting an alert from Shotspotter, a technology that picks up the sound of gunshots.

    Both young men were taken to a hospital to be treated for their gunshot wounds, the prosecutor's office said. The 19-year-old was pronounced deceased at approximately 8:07 a.m.

    Police are asking anyone with information about the incident, the suspect (or suspects) to come forward. Tips can be emailed to ccpotips@ccprosecutor.org or called in to Camden County Prosecutor's Office Detective Matt Barber at (856) 225-5166 or Camden County Police Detective Sean Miller at (856) 757-7420.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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