An 18-year-old special needs student accused of molesting a 3-year-old boy he’d pinned in a locker at the Leonia firehouse was not officially affiliated with the department, the president of the Leonia Fire Company said this week.
In a note that primarily blasts the borough mayor and council for first closing the firehouse for two days after the event and then restricting members’ access, Brendan Reilly backed Fire Chief David Bohnert’s characterization of Darius E. Levine as “someone from outside.”
Bohnert was criticized by Mayor John DeSimone and council members, who pointed out that Levine marched in uniform with the department in this year’s Memorial Day parade.
Reilly countered that the governing body was aware that Levine would be marching — and that the mayor offered him the opportunity to do so with them.
“To be clear,” Reilly wrote, “simply because the alleged perpetrator was allowed to march and was lent a partial uniform to give him a special day … does not make him associated with the fire department.”
The youngest of three adopted special-needs children in his family, the 4-foot-11-inch Levine has spent a lot of time around the Leonia firehouse, a department source told CLIFFVIEW PILOT immediately after the incident.
He’s been unable to become a full-fledged firefighter because of his disabilities, the source said — explaining that, although Levine is intelligent, he is also developmentally and physically disabled.
Levine, who originally was committed to the secure unit of Bergen Regional Medical Center following his arrest, has since been transferred to the county jail.
His bail remained at $100,000 this afternoon.
As CLIFFVIEW PILOT reported exclusively, screams brought volunteers running the night of June 14 at the firehouse, where they found the young son of a volunteer firefighter pinned in a locker.
Levine was “touching the boy and touching himself,” a source with direct knowledge of the incident said.
Firefighters pulled Levine away, then called police, as the frightened youngster was comforted.
The boy was riding scooters with his brother when the incident occurred behind a firetruck, the source said.
Investigators were at the firehouse for several hours before arresting Levine after midnight and charging him with second-degree sexual assault by contact, following an intensive review of the circumstances.
Levine is scheduled to graduate next year from the Community School of Teaneck, which serves children with learning disabilities and attention deficits.
He has also participated in the Puffin Cultural Forum, a project of the Teaneck-based Puffin Foundation Ltd., which reaches into the community for artwork and photography from all walks of life.
Although firefighters said they believed ordinary activities would resume the next day, borough officials suspended department operations and secured mutual aid agreements from Fort Lee and Teaneck to cover their respective sides of town for two full days.
The governing body reopened the house, but with restricted access to trucks and equipment, and for medical emergencies. Mutual aid departments apparently are still handing the borough’s major calls.
Members of the 115-year-old volunteer squad had previously begun inquiring about creating a paid department.
The incident ignited tensions into a full-scale battle between company representatives and residents on one said and DeSimone and the council on the other.
Most firefighters weren’t at the house at the time of the incident, Reilly argued, adding that police immediately were called.
The mayor and council, however, have said firefighters must continue operating with restrictions until there is a a “total review” of the company and a private meeting with its representatives — without the volunteers’ lawyer present.
Things appear at a standstill: Given all that’s been said and done, Reilly countered, the firefighters aren’t meeting any of the governing body without their lawyer.
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