Neighbor pleads guilty to murder, sex assault of girl

FREEHOLD – The upstairs neighbor of 11-year-old Abbiegail Smith has pleaded guilty to her July 2017 sexual assault and murder in Keansburg, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Andreas Erazo, 20, of Keansburg, pleaded guilty Tuesday to first degree Murder and first degree Aggravated Sexual Assault in connection with the death of Abbiegail “Abbie” Smith, who was found deceased on July 13, 2017, just hours after she was reported missing from her Hancock Street apartment.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the State will recommend a sentence of Life in Prison, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. That statute deems a sentence of Life in Prison to be 75 years, which means Erazo would be required to serve 63 years, nine months and three days before he would be eligible for release on parole. Upon release, Erazo would also be subject to Parole Supervision for Life, and Megan’s Law. The plea agreement was made after consultation with the victim’s family.

Erazo was charged after Keansburg police responded to 16 Hancock St. at about 9:24 p.m., on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, after receiving a report the resident’s 11-year-old daughter was missing. Keansburg police immediately launched a missing person’s investigation. Keansburg Police notified the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office of the situation in the overnight hours of July 13, when a joint investigation was launched into the disappearance of Abbiegail Smith.

At approximately 10:20 a.m., detectives from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office’s Forensic and Technical Services Bureau were behind the apartment complex, which includes the victim’s residence. While in the rear yard, detectives ultimately observed an object wrapped up in what appeared to be a blanket or comforter up on a rear roof. Upon closer inspection, they found what appeared to be the deceased body of the 11-year old victim. An autopsy would subsequently determine that the victim had been sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed.

As the investigation continued into the murder, police identified and ultimately charged Erazo, the young girl’s upstairs neighbor, with murder and weapons charges. Erazo is scheduled to appear in Superior Court for sentencing for his crimes before Presiding Criminal Judge David F. Bauman on May 31, 2019. He remains incarcerated in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, where he has been detained since his arrest.

The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutors Diane Aifer and Michael Luciano. Erazo is represented by Michael Wicke, Esq. of Freehold.

A great way to spend locally

Great deals at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa

Monmouth University adds two master’s programs

West Long Branch — Monmouth University announced the launch of two new graduate degree programs. Both currently accepting applications, the Master of Science in athletic training program will begin in June 2019 and the dual degree Master of Arts/Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing will begin in September 2019.

“With the addition of these two programs, Monmouth University continues to stay on the cutting edge in order to meet changing labor market demands,” said Vice Provost for Graduate Studies Michael Palladino, Ph.D. “Nationally, opportunities for athletic trainers are expected to grow at a rate of 21 percent from 2014-2024, while New York and New Jersey employment opportunities for graduates with a Master’s in creative writing are growing at a rate that is 5 to 18 percent higher than national averages. We are excited to offer students programs that not only lead to meaningful employment, but also provide a highly personalized and practical graduate-level experience.”

The athletic training program will be a full-time two-year program beginning in June 2019, with an April 1, 2019 application deadline for the first cohort of students. Students will have access to an on-site simulation laboratory and modern technology and resources that reflect real-world athletic training practices, including state-of-the-art rehabilitation and conditioning equipment.

“Beyond the rigorous coursework of the athletic training program, Monmouth students will have several immersive clinical experiences in traditional and healthcare settings, totaling 1,400 hours,” said Athletic Training Program Director Christina Merckx, Ph.D., L.A.T., A.T.C. “Given our unique coastal location, we are also the only program in the country offering opportunities to explore topics such as surf medicine, ocean rescue, and fishing safety.”

Graduates of the athletic training graduate program can expect to work in various professions such as physician extenders, ergonomic consultants in commercial, military, or police settings, as well as athletic trainers at the professional, collegiate, or high school level.

The M.F.A. in creative writing program will be a one-year (at full-time status) continuation of study contingent on the completion of an M.A. in English with a creative writing concentration. The application deadline for classes beginning in September 2019 is July 15, 2019.

After completing an M.A. in English with a creative writing concentration at Monmouth, students are eligible for the 18-credit intensive one-year M.F.A. program, which expands the University’s present offerings to a three-year, dual-degree Master’s program that better prepares graduates for creative practice, professional placement, and teaching eligibility.

Program Director Melissa Febos, M.F.A., said the 48-credit dual-degree program will be customizable, with the option for students to choose a focus that combines fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.

“Our small, seminar-style course format, combined with one-on-one mentorship from our published, award-winning faculty and a sharp focus on career preparation allows students to hone their craft, expand their network, and gain valuable experience in the field,” added Febos.

The new M.A./M.F.A. program prepares students for a wide variety of careers, such as freelance writer, creative consultant, college professor, literary agent or publicist, book or magazine editor, web content editor, and many others.

For additional information or to apply, visit or contact the Graduate Admission office at 732-571-3452.

In The LINK this week…Truck flips over

PAX dump truck full of dirt flips over on corner of Ocean Blvd. & Joline Ave. in Long Branch. Took turn too fast.    LINK photo

No one hurt. Driver suffers shoulder injury. See LINK on news stand for other stories.

Oceanport: full size college on 12 acres wrong for here

By Neil Schulman

Oceanport — The Planning Board, the emergency services, and the governing body all say that plans to turn 12 acres on Fort Monmouth into a college campus, complete with hundreds of dorm rooms, a five-story parking garage, and an 80-foot-high building, are a bad idea.

FMERA, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, has introduced an amendment to its master plan which would allow these changes to the area around Squier Hall. It was sent to Oceanport and other municipalities to review last month – and got a chilly reception here.

Officials at the Feb. 7 Oceanport Borough Council meeting outlined the objections the borough had to many of these proposals, saying they do not fit in with what they had been expecting from the originally described proposal, or with what the borough’s zoning regulations would allow.

Officials said the had been anticipating a college satellite with the former Squier Hall becoming classrooms, and a parking lot. But the ammendment would allow for four five-story buildings – a 95,000 square foot residence center, a lab, a parking garage and an athletic center, as well as an 80’ tall performing arts center.

Councilman Robert Proto said that the Oceanport Planning Board had “nine pages worth of comments and concerns,” and will not just be passing them on to FMERA.

“[It will] be taking the unusual step of memorializing these concerns in a resolution,” Proto said.

While he did not read all their objections, he did give several highlights:

The area is zoned for single family homes no more than 35 feet high and two stories; some of the proposed buildings are five stories and up to 80 feet high.

The Floor Area Ratio (FAR), the amount of space usable for business, is 0.3 in the borough; the FAR here is more than triple that at 1.0. “There is no other known zone of the borough of Oceanport that allows for such excessive FAR,” Proto said.

Despite the parking garage, the board is also worried that since no analysis has been done, they aren’t sure if the parking is sufficient, especially with a dormitory that can handle 500 people. They also were worried about the possible traffic impact.

It’s not just the board who came to this conclusion. Borough Planner Beth McManus reviewed the plan and also had pages of concerns – including worries about the environmental impact of developing near Parker Creek, and that this would diminish the open space in FMERA’s original plan.

“This is entirely inconsistent with the borough master plan,” Proto said.

Councilman Steven Solan said emergency services have many of the same concerns, and more.

Police want to know planned security arrangements, especially if people are slated to live on campus. If there’s a campus police force, they also want to know what sort of radio communications they’d use, and if those were compatible with the Monmouth County dispatch service Oceanport uses.

The borough’s first aid squad believes that they could get 150 more calls a year from this area, and wants details on what medical services the campus would offer. Is there a nurse’s office or medical facility, and would the college have its own ambulance to transport people to the hospital.

And the fire department says that the auditorium at 80 feet would be too high for them to deal with, since they lack ladders that are long enough.

And OEM said being close to a creek means they need an evacuation plan.

“A category 2 storm would actually overwhelm the entire property,” Solan said.

Councilman Joe Irace accused FMERA of doing a bait and switch.

“The original plan was one academic building… and a parking lot,” he said. “You put in dorms, you put in five-story parking lots… that’s Monmouth University condensed into a 12-acre property.”

He said that the next amendment which FMERA intends to introduce, while he couldn’t yet give public details, “is as bad if not worse” for the borough.

Mayor Jay Coffey said that he was working to get something more palatable to the borough. He has some hope – and also strong doubts – about FMERA.

“Since I’ve been mayor, for three years, FMERA, when push came to shove hasn’t done anything we didn’t want to,” Coffey said.

He noted that the first part of the proposal – converting Squier Hall into an academic building – has everyone’s approval, especially because the plan would give the borough tax payments, which usually don’t come from college campuses. “This is a unicorn as far as we’re concerned.”

He said he’s reached out to the president of the university, and believes there is room for changing the plan to something Oceanport can agree on.

But he also knows that the borough can sometimes have little say with FMERA. Oceanport only has one of the 9 seats, and five of members are appointments made by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, not locals, and may not vote for local interests.

While Coffey was talking about his thoughts on FMERA, council members interjected, and the tone of the discussion changed to arguments over how the borough is being run. See related story on front page of The LINK News


St. Jerome School marks 100 days of the school year

Saint Jerome School in West Long Branch has been having a banner year, being awarded the Blue Ribbon of Excellence and holding many activities. To celebrate the 100th day of this school year, students dressed up how they might look when they’re 100, wore special novelty glasses, and did many other things to celebrate.

Local filmmakers in GSFF

Two local filmmakers have been selected to have their works shown at the Garden State Film Festival.

The Monster Within, directed by high school student Clayton Reynolds of Eatontown, and Right Time, Right Place: The Jim Hickey Story, produced and directed by Long Branch resident, Susan Pellegrini, will screen at 2019 Garden State Film Festival located in Asbury Park.

The Monster Within, created by Hannah Schwartzberg (at age 13, now 15) is a film/anamatic portraying how anxiety and depression can feel on a day to day basis. All images were hand drawn by Hannah for her to animate.

“We are extremely proud to present The Monster Within as a part of our 17th Annual Film Festival in Asbury Park, and to showcase the exceptional talent from our state as well as serve as a launching pad for the next generation of film maker,” says Lauren Concar Sheehy, the festival’s Executive Director.

The film will screen on March 30 at Jersey Shore Arts Center.

Right Place, Right Time is a life legacy film of Jim Hickey; documenting his family life, career, and retirement.

The film will screen on March 31, noon at Berkeley Hotel, Kingsley Ballroom.

The Garden State Film Festival which runs from March 27-March 31. Individual screening tickets are $15 in advance and $17 at the door. Weekend passes are $50 in advance and $55 at the door. Day Passes are also available – the Saturday Day Pass is $30 and Sunday Day Pass is $25.

Tickets are available at and at festival box offices at each venue. For more information about this film and other programs, visit the GSFF website at



Chief Jason Roebuck’s statement on the Patrick Joyce incident

Following is a statement from Long Branch Police Chief Jason Roebuck on the arrest and charges filed against Long Branch Police Officer Patrick Joyce.

As with any investigation, especially one involving a law enforcement officer, I cannot legally release certain information to the press, no matter how much I may want to, until that investigation has been completed. This was the situation with the incident involving Officer Patrick Joyce, Jr.

Now that the investigation is complete, and charges filed, I can issue the following statement, with much outrage and embarrassment. Officer Patrick Joyce Jr was charged with Criminal Sexual Contact (4th degree) and Harassment (Disorderly Persons offense) by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office on Friday, February 8th, 2019. While the matter was under investigation, he was immediately suspended without pay, which was supported by the command staff of the department and the City’s leadership. He is now facing termination of his employment.

While it is true that his actions that led to these charges were conducted when he was “off duty”, it matters little to us. He has defied the public trust and harmed the reputation of our department. Police Officers are supposed to protect the public, not prey upon them. Many will point to his past transgressions, as alluded to in several news articles. This is one of the many reasons such prompt and decisive action was taken immediately following this incident. There is a process to be followed in all discipline cases, as there is now.

I apologize to the residents of the City of Long Branch that the Long Branch Police Department serves faithfully every day and hope you will not judge us on the actions of one officer. There are 90 plus other officers here that put their lives on the line for the City of Long Branch, as one did just days ago, saving the life of a woman being violently assaulted. These officers serve with pride and distinction, and deserve your support, now more than ever. I sincerely hope this explanation clearly expresses our commitment to excellence and professionalism.

Thank you.
Chief Jason Roebuck

LBPD Officer Patrick Joyce charged with criminal sexual contact

FREEHOLD – A Long Branch police officer is facing charges of Criminal Sexual Contact and Harassment stemming from an incident at a police promotions party at a city bar, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Long Branch Police Officer Patrick D. Joyce, Jr., 35, of West Long Branch and a 12-year veteran of the Long Branch Police Department, is charged with fourth-degree Criminal Sexual Contact and Harassment, a petty disorderly persons offense.

The charges stem from an incident at Jack’s Goal Line Stand, a city bar where a private party was hosted following the promotion of four city police officers, on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. It is alleged that at the private party Joyce inappropriately touched a 21-year-old woman, who is a family member of a retired Long Branch police officer, without her consent for his own sexual arousal or gratification.

As a result of these charges, Joyce has been suspended by the Long Branch Police Department.

Joyce is scheduled to make his first appearance in Monmouth County Superior Court on March 15, 2019.

If convicted of Criminal Sexual Contact, Joyce faces up to 18 months in state prison.

If convicted of Harassment, Joyce faces up to 30 days in the county jail.

The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Melanie Falco, Director of the Office’s Professional Responsibilities and Bias Crime Unit.

Joyce is represented by Robert Norton, Esq., of Westfield.

Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.

The Link News learned that one day after the incident became public, Joyce was driven to the airport and is current in Florida in a rehabilitation program. Joyce also leads Monmouth County in use of force complaints and is number four in the state overall.

He has a past history of issues going all the way back to his time as a recruit in the police academy. Most recently he was one of the officers accused of sleeping and tampering with the GPS unit in a marked police car. Several years ago he was involved in a fight while off duty at a bar and fractured an individual’s jaw. As a result of that fight he was suspended for a year. He was also stabbed last year while off duty, saying someone jumped him.

However, he was also decorated with several department awards for outstanding work and stopping a stabbing.

Brick man arrested for stabbing a woman in Long Branch

FREEHOLD – A man has been arrested in connection with a stabbing Tuesday morning in Long Branch, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Michael Smith, 43, of Brick, is charged with first degree Attempted Murder, two counts of second degree Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, and two counts of second degree Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose, in connection with the stabbing of a 34-year old Brick Township woman.

A joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the Long Branch Police Department revealed that on February 5, 2019, at approximately 9:39 a.m., Long Branch Police Officer Robert Korn responded to a stabbing incident. When Officer Korn arrived, he observed the suspect, Michael Smith, swinging and grabbing at the victim, who was lying on the ground. Korn was able to pull Smith off of the victim and place him under arrest. Smith was armed with two knives during the assault and had stabbed the victim multiple times in the chest and head. The victim was taken to the hospital where she is listed in stable condition.

If convicted of Attempted Murder, Smith faces 20 years in a New Jersey state prison without parole. Both the Murder and Attempted Murder charges are subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act” (NERA) requiring him to serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release on parole. He would also be under parole supervision for five years following his release from state prison.

If convicted of the second degree weapons offenses, Smith faces a sentence up to ten years in prison on each charge.

Smith is scheduled to have his First Appearance on February 11, 2019 in Superior Court with a Detention Hearing to immediately follow.

The case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Dugan.

Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.