Week in Rewind: Royal Hotel migrant shelter proposal, 40 pounds of fentanyl tied to Bronx daycare, and Star Wars strikes Van Cortlandt Park

star wars
“Oh man, the score,” said Allen Guzman, 17, of what attracts him to “Star Wars.” He was dressed as a Jedi on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, and cosplaying with his little brother Adrian, 11.
Photo ET Rodriguez

The Week in Rewind spotlights some of the editorial work of the Bronx Times for the week of Sept. 22-Sept. 29. 

Royal Hotel Bronx owner looks to open doors to migrants, seeks CB12 blessing

A Northeast Bronx hotel that just opened in March is looking to house migrants.

Arpit Patel, the owner of the Royal Hotel Bronx, located at 3362 Boston Road, will request the support of Community Board 12 at its 7 p.m. general board meeting Thursday, which will be streamed on Facebook Live, YouTube and Webex.

In Patel’s planned presentation to the board, which was obtained by the Bronx Times, he frames his intentions as humanitarian: Help alleviate the migrant crisis in the city and make a positive impact on asylum seekers.

He emphasizes collaboration and open communication with the board, saying he wants to understand members’ questions and concerns and address them “promptly and transparently.”

“It is of utmost importance to me that any potential concerns are met with sincere attention, and I am committed to addressing them with top priority,” Patel says on a slide in his presentation.

The hotel, which sits between the Laconia and Williamsbridge sections of the Bronx, has been independently owned and operated since opening in March of this year, according to the presentation. It took the place of the former Marcus Jackson funeral home.

The hotel has a 3-star rating from the culmination of 38 reviews on Google. While some reviewers praised their stays, others lamented about their rooms being dirty. One reviewer claimed two months ago that “it was full of homeless people” staying there and another person three days ago said “it is just pretending to be a hotel,” citing dirty sheets and elevator, as well as a lack of seating, microwave, mini fridge and parking.

According to Patel’s presentation, Councilmember Kevin Riley, whose council district includes the hotel, is “amenable” to a letter of no objection as long as the community board is involved in the process. The Bronx Times reached out to Patel and Riley for comment and is awaiting responses.

two people sit on steps with their heads in their arms
Migrants sit in despair after a Midtown hotel reached capacity on July 30, 2023. File photo/Dean Moses

Bronx daycare death: 40 pounds of fentanyl found with suspect tied to fatal incident that claimed 1-year-old baby’s life

Authorities seized over 40 pounds of fentanyl from an alleged drug mill in the Bronx connected to the daycare center where a 1-year old child died from exposure to the deadly opioid earlier this month. 

The Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York announced Thursday results of the Sept. 26 bust, during which they recovered $1.5 million worth of fentanyl and arrested Juan Gabriel Herrera Vargas, an alleged drug dealer involved in the racket — charging him with operating as a major drug trafficker.

According to investigators, authorities attempted to arrest Herrera Vargas while he was leaving the Kingsbridge Road subway station at 4:40 p.m. on Sept. 26, with a suitcase in tow that was allegedly contained 13 kilogram bricks of suspected fentanyl.

The suspect momentarily cooperated with police and handed over his wallet to cops, but then he made a run for it — fleeing custody and evading uniformed officers. 

Police kept up the chase, though, and found Herrera Vargas exiting an apartment building at 2800 Heath Ave. at around 8:40 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Agents swiftly arrested him and seized approximately 50,000 glassines bundled together into 25 larger packages from inside a different suitcase he was carrying.

The fentanyl and paraphilia sized from the Bronx apartment of Juan Gabriel Herrera Vargas. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York

New Radio Diaries podcast chronicles mysteries of people buried on Hart Island

Stephen used to sit on the same bench at Riverside Park in the Upper West Side nearly every day. But after his body turned up dead in 2017 and officials couldn’t identify him, he was buried on Hart Island.,,His story — like many buried on the small isle off the Bronx’s eastern coast — was lost, until a woman who knew him from the park came across his true identity. Now that story of Stephen, whose birth name was Neil Harris Jr., and others who were laid to rest on Hart Island — some otherwise forgotten — is coming to light thanks to a new Radio Diaries and Radiotopia podcast that aims to pay tribute to their lives.

The first episode of “The Unmarked Graveyard: Stories from Hart Island,” titled “The Man On The Bench (Neil Harris Jr.),” comes out Thursday on the Radio Diaries podcast. 

Joe Richman, a Peabody-winning reporter and producer and the founder of Radio Diaries, who also hosts the show, said “The Unmarked Graveyard” coincides with the types of stories told on other shows — which mostly are “hidden and buried and less known.”

“We think about a lot of our stories as sort of living obituaries … celebrating people and stories, preserving them before they’re gone,” Richman said in an interview with the Bronx Times. 

The small isle of Hart Island, also known as the City Cemetery or Potter’s Field, is a mass graveyard where more than 1 million New Yorkers are buried. When the city began using the island as a public burial site in 1869, plots were occupied by people who “died indigent” — whose families either couldn’t afford other burial services or whose bodies went unclaimed after their death. Most recently, the island was used to bury people who died of epidemic and pandemic diseases — most notably AIDS and COVID-19. 

Radio Diaries and Radiotopia are launching a new podcast called "The Unmarked Graveyard: Stories from Hart Island." Pictured, Susan Hurlburt visits her son's grave on the island.
Radio Diaries and Radiotopia are launching a new podcast called “The Unmarked Graveyard: Stories from Hart Island.” Pictured, Susan Hurlburt visits her son’s grave on the island. Photo Andrew Lichtenstein/Radio Diaries

Star Wars and its diversity of fandom comes to life in Van Cortlandt Park, literally.

The force was strong in Van Cortlandt Park on Friday as Siths, Jedis and Baby Yoda battled it out with glowing lightsabers that brilliantly contrasted against an ominous pink and blue sky.

Fans, cosplayers and local politicos alike gathered at the park’s grassy parade grounds for a screening of George Lucas’ highly regarded 1977 masterpiece, “Star Wars” (later retitled, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.”) Unfortunately, the movie was canceled due to gusty conditions, but that didn’t take the wind out the sails of attendees. The screening was also scheduled in conjunction with what was supposed to be a closing party for a recent art exhibit in the park. Instead, it was a celebration of the exhibit’s extension through Dec. 1.

Photoville’s “Fandom Unbound” by photographer and curator Rhynna Santos is a documentary photo series of “Star Wars” cosplayers intended to spotlight the growing diversity of the body types and backgrounds of fans while “redrawing the boundaries of inclusion.”

“I like to tell people that a long time ago on an island far far away, I saw ‘Star Wars’,” Santos told the Bronx Times while dressed as Princess Leia in the character’s famous white gown, sinched with a silver belt and complete with the iconic two-bun hairstyle.

Santos was a young child in Puerto Rico when her father took her to watch the film at a theater she still visits when she returns to her hometown. And although Santos did not speak English and admits to not understanding the movie at the time, she was captivated by its visuals and felt a “bodily response.”

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