Chester Mayor Defends Sandy Evacuation, Officers
Bill Cogger said his officers risked their lives to evacuate residents during storm.
Two weeks ago at the Chester Borough meeting of the mayor and council, Cherry Tree Lane resident Sue Pinto read from a letter with a list of questions regarding the evacuation of her street at the height of superstorm Sandy.
At that meeting in the borough, Pinto described her evacuation from her home and difficulty in finding information and security from officials. There, she was met with sympathy for her plight and consternation over her account of her treatment during the storm.
At Tuesday’s Chester Township meeting, the reaction was markedly different.
“I really resent the insinuation,” Mayor Bill Cogger said. “You are not giving facts you are giving opinions. I get a little tired when people act in the best interest of the residents and get questioned after.”
The questions Pinto listed on Tuesday night were the same ones she asked of the Chester Borough Council Dec. 4. They included:
- Was the gas leak verified before the evacuation?
- Why didn’t police give residents a place to go?
- Why didn’t the police take the contact info of residents?
- When were officials informed of the decisions?
“Nobody did anything to cause anybody damage,” Cogger said. “And my police officers were out there risking their damn lives.”
Pinto asked why Cogger was getting angry with her.
“I am angry at what I read,” Cogger said. “I am angry at what it is insinuating. You are asking these questions as if the police acted independently.”
Pinto said she and her neighbors were forced to leave during the storm and left out in the dark with nowhere to go. Those who did make it to the firehouse were left in cold bays that housed the trucks.
“We weren’t looking for five star accommodations. Just warmth and protection,” Pinto said. “I am sorry, it was a horrible night.”
To that, Cogger agreed.
“It was a horrible night. But it was worse for that couple in Mendham. It is terrible to say this, but you have to be self-reliant,” Cogger said. “There was no place and it was scary and I don’t know what to do about that. We can provide a place for people to go temporarily but we can’t open a shelter. As you can tell, that night was absolute chaos. It was a very hectic and scary night and nobody died. Nobody got hurt.”
Since the storm, Cogger said he had received the letter Sue Pinto read to the council as well as a letter from her husband Frank, who is the Director of the Department of Human Services for Morris County. Cogger said he offered to meet with the Pintos before the council meeting but their schedules didn’t match up.
Chester Township Cpl. Detective Anthony DaCunza also followed up with the Pinto’s as part of an internal affairs investigation into the night of the storm. The results of that investigation have not yet been released.
“Detective DaCunza is a gentleman,” Frank Pinto said. “I think, Bill, if you had talked to my wife the way that he did we wouldn’t be dealing with post-traumatic stress.”
Frank Pinto said the questions his wife asked she had a right to ask and had a right to have answered.
“I have been a public servant for 25 years and if I spoke to anyone like that I would be hung," Frank Pinto said. "I am really disappointed in you Bill.”
Cogger said that he is continuing to meet with the Chester Borough to enhance their services and plans to contact every resident about storm readiness in the future.