Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said. “I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

Lori Presser, on left, will take over from Carol Moor, on right, as the new Invited In soup kitchen director at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

After 27 years directing the Invited In soup kitchen, a program she helped create, Carol Moor feels she has reached the point to step down, yet it would be impossible for her to step out.

Every Thursday in the parish hall behind the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point, Moor and a number of volunteers help feed close to 60 hungry mouths. Moor has overseen the kitchen through more than 75,000 total meals. She has worked to secure grants and donations so that the program can continue helping those in need.

“I thought maybe it was time to find a successor,” Moor said. “I’m still going to be involved, but I won’t be in charge. It would be impossible for me to step away completely — this has been my life.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, on left, and the Rev. Bruce Kaifler, on right, honor Carol Moor, at center, following her decision to step down as director of Invited In soup kitchen at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point. Photo from Suffolk County

Invited In feeds people of low income and of all ages, as well as senior citizens who use the meal as a means of interacting with others when they normally don’t have the means to do so.

“I feel wonderful,” Moor said of the work she does. “To me it’s such a joy to be able to do this, and I’m very touched by the response of the guests.”

The volunteers have seen the project grow from the small kitchen and dining space of the old parish hall to a new renovated space with a larger kitchen and more elegant setup. The soup kitchen now boasts a rotating staff of close to 50 volunteers, who often include children from local schools helping set the tables before service begins.

“She truly has helped shape the identity of Trinity in terms of compassionate care for people in need,” said the Rev. Bruce Kaifler, a pastor at the church. “She has led with such compassion that it has set the tone for what is outreach for the church. That is what has lent itself to the long-term success of the program.”

Moor’s replacement, Lori Presser, has been with the soup kitchen for five years and said she’s excited to take the reins.

The former director’s “biggest strength is she can understand what everybody needs,” Presser said of Moor. “You can’t imagine the wealth of knowledge that Carol has in here — its connections, it’s the way she treats people, it’s her organizational skills, it’s everything.”

“She truly has helped shape the identity of Trinity in terms of compassionate care for people in need.”

— Rev. Bruce Kaifler

Moor said she believes Presser will help take the program into the future.

“She’s really, really capable, she’s already brought new ideas and new energy,” Moor said. “When you’ve done something for this long you kind of let it keep going the way it is — it needs growth and change because the world changes.”

Kaifler said Presser’s transition will be easy.

“She was thoughtfully considered and elected,” he said. “She has shown to be such a beautiful continuation of Carol’s primary principles of kindness, compassion and respect.”

Invited In tries to maintain its inviting atmosphere not just in ambiance but in the food that’s served, keeping the meals whole, hearty and traditional. Recently the soup kitchen served beef enchilada casserole. It was a slight deviation from the usual chicken, pasta or meatloaf.

“These are hot meals, and there are not a lot of organizations that provide hot meals,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who honored Moor with a proclamation for her nearly three decades of service. “Carol has just been an angel in what she’s been able to provide to so many people.”

Invited In soup kitchen services are held at 5 p.m. every Thursday at 716 Route 25A in Rocky Point. The nonprofit accepts donations in person, through the mail or online at www.invitedin.org.

Sheryl Cohn stands in her home’s guest bedroom where the ceiling crashed and fell onto the bed during Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it’s been more than five years since Hurricane Sandy ravaged Long Island, many people, including Huntington Station resident Sheryl Cohn, are still feeling its effects like the storm only happened yesterday.

Black mold in the basement of Cohn’s home is an aftereffect of Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Kyle Barr

In an interview after the April 11 public hearing at Stony Brook University conducted by the Suffolk County Legislature’s Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force, Cohn said her roof was ruined in the wake of the storm, and her house is falling apart around her. The ceiling in her guest bedroom fell and crashed onto the bed, and black mold has sprouted in many rooms around her house. The masonry on the outside of her home — finished only a few months before Sandy hit — fell to pieces on her driveway. She lives in fear that a piece of ceiling will fall on her head while she sits or sleeps.

“My grandson, he turned five in March, he has never been here,” Cohn said. “I would never be able to forgive myself if, God forbid, he contracted something or a piece of sheetrock fell on his head. It makes me feel horrible. He lives a half an hour away, and he’s never been to Nana’s house.”

She first looked into a contractor to fix her roof, but the firm she hired disappeared with all of the money she had already given them. She said the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, the state program that was created to provide aid to people whose homes were damaged during the storm, has constantly told her wrong information and switched caseworkers with her multiple times. Now she says they have stopped returning her calls and emails. Five and a half years later she still has no progress on acquiring any financial aid.

As some of the effects of Sandy linger on, Legislator DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), the Legislature’s presiding officer, helped to create the Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force, a 27-member committee of government representatives, scientists, engineers and other experts to make recommendations on how to deal with the lasting effects of Sandy as well as prepare Suffolk County for the next big storm.

“My grandson, he turned five in March, he has never been here. I would never be able to forgive myself if, God forbid, he contracted something or a piece of sheetrock fell on his head.”

— Sheryl Cohn

The task force is divided into four working groups including emergency response, resiliency, recovery and infrastructure.

“As we go and narrow down the issues they want to focus on, we want to look at what went wrong, what are the recommendations, what are the solutions,” said Joshua Slaughter, Gregory’s aide. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we want to come out with things to make it better.”

The task force plans to have more meetings and come up with a document by December that will provide recommendations for the county.

While much of the focus of the task force is focused on the South Shore, where the damage was much more severe, problems from the North Shore not only deal with damaged property but the severe risk of beach erosion and property loss for people living close to the shore.

Professor of oceanography at Stony Brook University and task force member Malcolm Bowman said there is not enough solid data to say that “storm of the century” Sandy won’t be repeated in the near future and that rising sea levels will make each new storm do more damage.

“Five, 10, 25 years from now it will take less of a storm to do the same amount of damage,” Bowman said. “That is the challenge that we have to think about and be prepared for.”

Malcolm Bowman discusses ways to fix Long Island’s receding beachline at a Superstorm Sandy Review Task Force public hearing held April 11 at Stony Brook University. Photo by Kyle Barr

There are both natural solutions and engineered solutions up in the air for trying to fix Long Island’s receding beachline, according to Bowman. Natural solutions include planting seagrass and reestablishing oyster beds to hold the land in place, while engineering solutions include barriers and other human-made structures. Bowman said that both will come into play when preparing for upcoming storms.

Regarding aiding those who are still affected by Sandy navigate their recovery, Slaughter said the task force was thinking about recovery advocates, somebody who can be hired by the state to work with people on a consistent basis.

“I know it will be difficult, there are a lot of cases, but if you leave it to that one on one, people will be running forever, and not every consumer can get out as well as others,” Slaughter said.

“The vast, vast majority of our contractors did the best to their ability, but of course the ones we hear about are those who put people in a bad position or were unscrupulous,” chair of the task force Dave Calone said. “Our job as a governmental entity is to make recommendations to limit that as much as possible.”

Another task force meeting took place April 18 at the Southampton Town Hall. Two more meetings are scheduled for April 26 at Patchogue-Medford High School and May 2 at Babylon Town Hall.

Janet Leatherwood demonstrates wheel throwing to guests at last Saturday's Open House
Ceramics studio and gallery find new home at Flowerfield

By Kyle Barr

As the potter’s wheel spins, ceramic artist Patrick Dooley plays his fingers along the side of the spinning clay like a harpist does a harp’s strings. The clay forms lips and edges. A thumb pressed clean in the center develops a hole and the lump of clay is slowly turned into an object, something tangible.

“You can turn clay into anything you want,“ Dooley said as his hands grow thick with the wet-brown of the clay. “There’s something about that tactile feel, being in control of that clay, turning it into something, something artistic, something functional. It’s creative.”

The nonprofit Brick Clay Studio & Gallery has finally opened in St. James. The new location at 2 Flowerfield joins others of its kind including The Atelier art studio and The Shard Art Shoppe. After two years of working to get it started, members are ecstatic to see their collective art education center and gallery finally become a reality. 

Patrick Dooley works on a clay piece.

“I feel the universe is on our side, I think we’re destined to be here,” gushed physical therapist and ceramic enthusiast Estrellita Ammirati during last weekend’s Open House as a huge smile stretched across her face. “If you saw what this place looked like 37 days ago … we had nothing, pretty much nothing.”

Many of the artists at The Brick Studio were artists who worked in the basement of Stony Brook University’s Union building, willing to teach community members and students who found their way into their space. In 2015 SBU declared it would be removing The Craft Center from the basement in preparation for the building’s renovations. 

“We were kicked out when the Union closed,” said member and ceramicist Astrid Wimmer.“There were 20 of us who wanted to go on and we had no place to go. So we formed this cooperative. We’re very excited and we worked very hard.”

Laura Peters gets ready to create.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and ceramicist Justine Moody, the group wanted to create their own space to practice their art and commune with each other. They set up a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that had 123 people pledge over $18,000 to the project. The artists caught a break when they learned that Dowling College would be closing and they were able to acquire the ceramic department’s equipment including motorized pottery wheels, kilns and pugmill relatively cheap.

The original plan was to locate the studio in Rocky Point in a brick building near the Rocky Point Farmers Market at the corner of Prince and Broadway, but the group was unable to land the deal. 

“Rocky Point needed to be revitalized and Broadway was really suffering. They wanted something like this in town. A cultural center, not-for-profit, it was going to be bringing art into the community, and the community into art, and we really wanted that,” Vogelle said. “But we really couldn’t buy anything, and they were looking for someone to buy.”

Cat mugs by Russell Pulick for sale at the Open House last Saturday.

When the group settled on the space in St. James, they had originally walked into a barren warehouse-type room. The ceiling’s electric wires were hanging loose from the ceiling, the floor was bare, the concrete was unpainted and there was no counter space or shelving. It took several weeks of volunteer work to bring the space into a livable condition.

“The members are just amazing with their efforts. They’re workhorses, they’re worker bees,” Vogelle said. 

It’s hard to understate how important having a space to practice is to the artists at the brick studio. Stony Brook University Professor Janet Leatherwood had practiced as a child on a pottery wheel at home, some 30 years before she picked it up again when she found The Craft Center at the university. 

“I have a studio at home, so I could still make stuff, but it was such a community, such energy and so much input from other people,” Leatherwood shook her head. “It wasn’t the same.”

Russell Pulick describes his artistic process to visitors.

Longtime studio and production potter Russell Pulick was tasked with fixing many of the machines that were purchased from Dowling, and he said places like this are necessary for the community it provides.

“I have technical knowledge of these machines, and of glazing. Somebody else could probably do it, but it would be a learning process,” Pulick said. “I have most of this equipment at home, but this place is about the people, dedicated people, people who love clay, who love creating.” 

The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery is located at 2 Flowerfield, Suites 57 and 60, in St. James. The studio offers a variety of classes including Portraits in Clay and Wheel Throwing as well as eight-week workshops in advanced wheel throwing, summer camp for children and internships. 

Drop by this Friday, April 13, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. for the studio’s  first Clay Try-Day, a great opportunity to see if working with clay is something you would like to pursue. $30 per person. Preregistration is strongly recommended although walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call 631-250-9530 or visit www.thebrickstudio.org.

All photos by Kyle Barr

Nesconset Civic Association members protested outside the site of the proposed 7-Eleven March 31. Photo from Facebook

A proposed 7-Eleven on the southeast corner of Smithtown Boulevard and Nichols Road has a Nesconset civic group up in arms.

Nesconset Civic Association, a recently formed community organization, is fearful that construction of yet another 7-Eleven will negatively affect traffic safety in their neighborhood during rush hour, especially as there is already another one a short way down the road.

Civic members attended the Town of Smithtown board meeting April 10 to voice their opinions.

Bob Souto, a board member of the Nesconset Civic Association, said he and his group collected 400 signatures through an online petition from residents who opposed the proposed 2,500-square-foot convenience store. The site in question was formerly home to Capital One bank, across from Nesconset Christian Church.

“My neighbors don’t want this, are troubled by this, and say they didn’t vote for this,” Souto said. “Our roads are designed 50, 60 years ago. This new business doesn’t add more cars to road, but it does change traffic patterns. It causes safety, pollution and congestion issues.”

He also asked the board to call a moratorium on all new development in Nesconset.

It’s time to step back, moratorium’s a good word, and prepare a comprehensive master plan for all five hamlets.”
— Amy Fortunato

The project is being spearheaded by Bay Shore-based developer J. Nazarro Partnership. Nazarro could not be reached for comment before this publication’s press time.

“Historically, Smithtown’s town codes were written to protect the interests and investments of the Smithtown residents at the time of their codifications,” Nesconset resident Amy Fortunato said. “It’s time to step back, moratorium’s a good word, and prepare a comprehensive master plan for all five hamlets.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said that in order for the town to declare a moratorium on development in Nesconset, it would have to institute a townwide building ban. However, the Town of Smithtown has several villages and hamlets, including Lake Grove, Nissequogue and Village of the Branch which would be free to make their own decisions.

Civic members also said they felt that the town board has too quickly allowed the development to go through the approval process.

You have tainted the process by prematurely coming to a conclusion and have left the town vulnerable to a legal challenge.”
— Marie Gruick

“You have tainted the process by prematurely coming to a conclusion and have left the town vulnerable to a legal challenge,“ said Marie Gruick, of Nesconset.

Garguilo said that the town’s hands are tied because the developers have the legal authority to build on the property. Town officials cannot deny a site plan solely based on its intended use. She said the town could be subject to an unwinnable lawsuit if they tried to halt it.

“If something is zoned where it requires no variance or exceptions or anything like that, by law the town has to approve it unless they are asking for a special exception or something it isn’t zoned for,” Garguilo said. “All that we would be left with is a big bill that comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.”

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the board will arrange for all of the traffic counts and accident studies to be made available to the residents who are concerned about traffic. He also said that the county still has to approve plans to create a new curb cut onto Smithtown Boulevard.

The Nesconset Civic Association, which is not associated with either the existing Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association or Nesconset Neighbors United, will be holding a meeting April 19 at 7 p.m. The location is the Nesconset branch of The Smithtown Library at 148 Smithtown Blvd.

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

Residents have found their choices have narrowed regarding the historic Briarcliff property.

At a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School April 11, board members sat at multiple tables with groups of community members to engage in discussions on whether to keep or sell the 10.54-acre property. 

“How much do you want to do to maintain it?” Shoreham resident Lisa Geraghty asked.

Briarcliff Elementary School closed its doors in 2014. Since then, the district has had to pay for ongoing operating costs — currently $95,000 annually.

“If you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

— Glen Arcuri

The district originally came up with several ideas for the future use of the building, like having BOCES lease it, relocating the central office there or establishing prekindergarten classes in the space. Eastern Suffolk BOCES has officially stated it does not need to lease a building, and the district said there is no immediate need to relocate its central office. After residents spoke at the March 27 meeting, it was also decided that pre-K was a rejected addition to the proposed budget.

At prior meetings when the future of the Briarcliff property was brought up, community members came forward with ideas to create special education, STEM or art programs there or relocate the North Shore Public Library to the site to expand space at the high school. The additional space is not needed, and the other options were also turned down, according to the district. 

“Part of the issue is the North Shore Public Library is not just Shoreham-Wading River’s library, so it needs to be visible for other people in the local community,” school trustee Erin Hunt said.

If the district were to sell it, the actual value of the property cannot accurately be determined, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

“At this time as the appraisal company said, there’s no [comparison] to a 10.9-acre property in the Village of Shoreham that you’re really able to compare to, so they could give you a price based on square footage or acreage, but the real question is going to be on the buyer,” Arcuri said. “Understand from a district perspective, if you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials pair off with community members to have roundtable discussions about the future of the Briarcliff building April 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some residents fear the zoning of the town would change if the building were sold.

“I think these ideas should conform to the current zoning on the property,” Shoreham resident and developer Larry Kogel said. “I don’t see why they couldn’t come up with a value for the board as a worst-case scenario, because anything else would require petitions of zonings or change of zonings that would probably not fly with the residents in the community.”

There is opportunity to lease the property, according to the district, but that would incur new costs from
maintenance and realtors, and would take time for capital costs to be recovered.

There is also the option to attain a historical landmark status for the property, but that may create restrictions for owners, and historical designation grants are highly competitive.

Shoreham resident and member of the board of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, Dave Madigan,
was among those who said he would rather have the building remain in the district’s hands.

“As a community member I would rather just see the building remain in storage for a better day, until you find a user who would want to lease the property as a school or preschool,” Madigan said. “Something
may come up where somebody may want to use it as a private school. Who knows what the future brings?”

Superintendent Gerard Poole said discussions will continue at future board meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for April 18 in the Prodell Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m.

Families pledge to continue to fight for stricter safety laws

Carol Belli, Paul Schulman, Suzanne Schulman and Mindy Grabina hold new street signs honoring their loved ones lost in a 2015 limo crash. Photo by Kyle Barr

Smithtown High School West students entering the south entrance this week may see a new street sign “LABS Ln,” dedicated as a lasting tribute to four young women killed in a 2015 limousine crash.

Paul Schulman, father of Brittney Schulman who died in a limo crash in 2015, speaks during an event to honor the victims of the fatal crash. Photo by Kyle Barr

More than 700 runners were joined by about 300 local residents, first responders and politicians for the first Running 4 Our Angels 5K Run/Walk April 8. The event aimed to bring awareness to safety issues with limousine safety and honor the lives of Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli, Amy Grabina and Brittney Schulman.

More than $10,000 raised through donations will go to scholarships given out by nonprofit organizations founded by the four families to honor their daughters’ lives. The proceeds will be equally split between the Lawzie Marigold Foundation, founded in honor of Lauren Baruch; the Stephanie Belli Whisperette Scholarship; The Amy Rose Grabina Foundation; and a scholarship given out by the Schulman family. The event organizers declined to
release the total amount raised.

“This was amazing, beyond my wildest imagination,” said Felicia Baruch, Lauren’s mother, who organized the event. “We have such an amazing community in Smithtown, without the community this could not have happened.”

On July 18, 2015, the four women had rented a limousine along with four others to go wine tasting at various North Fork vineyards. Peconic resident Steven Romeo was driving an SUV when he collided with the limousine as it attempted to make a U-turn near the intersection of Depot Lane and County Route 48 in Cutchogue. The four young women died in the crash while the other four were injured.

Felicia and Steven Baruch, and Carol Belli hold new street signs honoring their loved ones lost in a 2015 limo crash. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s coming up to three years years in July and there’s nothing,” said Brittney’s father, Paul Schulman. “There are no changes to anything, the people responsible are still walking around, and I have to keep fighting because if I don’t then it’s not going to happen.”

Romeo pled guilty to driving while impaired and receive a 90-day license suspension in April 2017. The limo driver, Carlos Pino, of Old Bethpage, was arrested and arraigned on four counts of criminally negligent homicide among multiple other traffic violations. However charges were dismissed by a Suffolk County judge in October 2017. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has a pending appeal to reinstate the charges against Pino.

The victim’s families said they feel there hasn’t been any made progress in the fight to improve limousine safety standards, according to Schulman. They have circulated an online petition that calls for politicians to increase regulations on the industry. Their requests include that limos not be allowed to make U-turns, drivers should have required training and that limousines should meet federal safety standards similar to other commercial vehicles.

“What we’re looking for more is changes in Albany,” he said. “Anybody here can be a limousine driver. We want them to go through the same standards that any truck driver or anybody who drives a bus has to go through.”

Local and state politicians offered their condolences to the families and promised to do what they could implement change.

The parents of Lauren Baruch walk to honor their daughter, who was among those killed in a 2015 limo crash. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have brought with us letters from every elected official who is here advocating for a no U-turn sign, or signal, or both [at the road where the accident occured] and improved safety measures for stretch limousine vehicles.” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said that he is optimistic about introducing a law that will restrict limousine’s ability to make u-turns on left turn signal.

“This should be an absolute no brainer,” Flanagan said. “It’s not like we’re building a bridge. We’re banning U-turns in a spot where four young women were killed. I want to roll my sleeves up and help these people.”

“The people want it, it’s the politicians who need to implement it,” said Howard Grabina, Amy’s father.

The families’ online petition and more information on legal changes they are requesting can be found at: www.labspetition.org.

Editor’s Note:  This post was updated April 11 5:58 p.m. There were four women in the limousine with the victims; not six as originally stated. 

Robert Verbeck donates platelets to Stony Brook University Hospital almost once a month. Photo from Cassandra Huneke

Because so many are in need of life-saving blood cells, a local teacher is doing all he can to help a hospital’s supply match its demand.

Almost once a month for the past few years, Miller Avenue Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Robert Verbeck has traveled to Stony Brook University Hospital to donate his platelets. Last Thursday marked his 114th time.

Though not quite squeamish, Verbeck said he feels almost wrong for talking about it, saying he doesn’t see much nobility in sacrificing a small amount of time to help save lives.

“It might feel self-aggrandizing if I say I’m out there saving people’s lives every couple of weeks, but people can die when they don’t have enough platelets.”

— Robert Verbeck

“I almost feel guilty, though at the same time, you know you’re saving somebody’s life,”the Shoreham-Wading River school district teacher said. “It might feel self-aggrandizing if I say I’m out there saving people’s lives every couple of weeks, but people can die when they don’t have enough platelets.”

Verbeck’s stepfather and retired NYPD officer John Eaton had also been a prolific platelet donor before he passed away in May 2008. Eaton donated approximately 24 times a year, close to the maximum a person can donate in 12 months, according to Verbeck.

“He just wanted to help people — that’s why he became a cop in the first place,” Verbeck said. “He just kind of kept donating. In a weird way, I don’t want to say it’s addictive, but you get a really good feeling from doing it. You keep coming back.”

Platelets, tiny cells in the blood that form clots and stop bleeding, are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries. Every 30 seconds a patient is in need of platelets and more than 1 million platelet transfusions are given to patients each year in the U.S. Once a donation is given, the platelets must be used within five days.

“Stony Brook University Hospital never has enough donated platelets to satisfy our demand, therefore, we have to purchase the from other larger blood products facilities,”  said Linda Pugliese, a blood bank recruiter at Stony Brook. She said most of the hospital’s platelets are purchased from Red Cross. Over 10 years, Eaton donated more than 100 times, according to Pugliese.

“I understand people have their lives, they have their problems and not everyone can sacrifice their time, but If everybody donated a few times a year, we wouldn’t be so tight.”

— Dennis Galanakis

“Without them we couldn’t function,” said Dr. Dennis Galanakis, director of transfusion medicine at Stony Brook Hospital. “The problem with platelets is they have to be stored in a special way. They have to have all the tests that are required for safety. They only have a five-day shelf life, and it takes two days to do all the tests, so in practice, the shelf life is about three days.”

Verbeck was an efficient blood donator before he heard about platelets, and while at first he said he was skeptical, that changed when a friend of his was diagnosed with cancer.

“I started doing it, and just like my dad, I felt it was a good thing to do,” he said. “I was doing it five or six times a year. After my dad died, it was a loss, and not just my personal loss, but it was a loss with their supply — it was one less person donating. So that gave me the impetus.”

The entire platelet donation process takes about two hours. Machines take half cup of blood through one vein and processes it to remove platelets before returning the blood through another vein.

April is National Donate Life Month, so to join Verbeck in his quest to feed the blood banks, potential givers can call Stony Brook Hospital at 631-444-3662 or find out more online at stonybrookmedecine.edu and to schedule an appointment.

“Only a small number of people donate at any given time,” Galanakis said. “I understand people have their lives, they have their problems and not everyone can sacrifice their time, but If everybody donated a few times a year, we wouldn’t be so tight.”

Rows of cheering friends and family lined Longfellow Drive in Kings Park Wednesday afternoon to welcome home a National Guard airman returning home from Iraq. Nobody was more excited to see him than his children.

Both Ella, 3, and Gavin Brucculeri, 2, screamed with delight when they saw their father, Master Sgt. Jimmy Brucculeri, pull up in the family’s Dodge Ram. Ella bounded over to her dad who immediately picked her up into his arms. Gavin walked down the driveway with tears in his eyes, completely overcome with emotion.

Suffolk County  police department members looking on cheered loudly in welcoming Brucculeri home. It was a surprise.

“It’s a great feeling, all of this, it’s a great feeling to be home.”

— Jimmy Brucculeri

“It’s a great feeling, all of this, it’s a great feeling to be home,” he said. ‘It’s good to see everybody come together.”

Brucculeri works as a Suffolk County police officer in addition to serving as a member of the 106th Air Rescue Wing of New York’s National Guard. In January, his unit was deployed into Iraq to assist Operation Inherent Resolve, a U.S led mission to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The 106th Air Rescue Unit lost four of its members March 15 when a H-60 Pave Helicopter crashed in Iraq during a mission for Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S. Department of Defense has said the cause of the crash is still under investigation, but it but did not appear to be the result of enemy activity.

“It’s kind of somber, but half of my unit is still in Iraq,” Brucculeri said. “So until they get home and everyone gets home, it’s just waiting.”

Thousands of mourners traveled to King’s Park to attend funeral services for Commack airman Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, a member of Brucculeri’s unit, who was killed in the line of duty when the helicopter crashed.

“Gavin’s birthday was yesterday, so it’s a very good birthday present to have him home.”

— Cathyrn Brucculeri

Brucculeri’s family was able to keep in contact with him while he was overseas, but said it was much better to have him home.

“We spoke daily over Facetime or texting, which was good, but it was still obviously hard,” said Cathryn, Brucculeri’s wife. “ The kids definitely felt it. Gavin’s birthday was yesterday, so it’s a very good birthday present to have him home.”

Ernie Kabelka was also there to welcome Brucculeri home.

“He’s a great neighbor, he’s a great friend. He does everything around here,” Kabelka said.

He recalled how during a major snowstorm he and Brucculeri were driving around town together, when they spotted a man whose car was stuck in the snow. Brucculeri pulled over and spent more than a half hour helping dig the man out, according to Kabelka.

“He didn’t think nothing of it, it’s just what he does,” the neighbor said.

Concetta Van Winckel, a friend of the family, helped to organize the homecoming posting messages on Facebook and social media.

“Everyone from the community really came out for this,” Van Winckel said. “It was beautiful. People were really great to come out, even in the rain.”

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said public hearing set for May 15 may be pushed to June

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Though its little more than plans on paper, Huntington residents are furiously voicing their opposition to a proposed Elwood megamall.

More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition in the last week whose aim is to stop the proposed construction of the Villadom Mall off Jericho Turnpike. The proposed development on what is known as the Elwood Orchard site is being headed by Great Neck-based developer Villadom Corp.

“Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project,” Huntington resident Patrick Deegan said. “Hopefully, this is the last time this project comes up.”

The petition is in response to Huntington Town Board scheduling a public hearing on the mall proposal. The meeting was originally scheduled for May 15 at the Huntington Town Hall, though Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that most likely the meeting will be moved to sometime in June and will be hosted in the Elwood school district.

The developer has proposed to construct a 486,380-square-foot mall with retail and office space including a fitness center on the 50-acre property. The Elwood Orchard website claims the development will create 750 jobs during construction and 950 permanent jobs once completed.

Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project.”

— Patrick Deegan

A representative of Villadom was not available for comment.

Residents are afraid of what environmental impacts the proposed development could have on the area’s drinking water.

According to a draft environmental impact statement filed for the project with the town in 2015, the stormwater runoff is not anticipated to contain significant amounts of pollutants. Though several petitioners reject that claim and say that because the area is at a high elevation — 284 to 296 feet above sea level — there is risk of pollutants getting into the water system from construction and vehicles.

“All this water flows to the south. With a 2,000-car parking lot, with 50 acres being disturbed, do you not think this is going to affect the quality of that well?” civil engineer Paul Besmertnik said. “It may not cause a problem in the first year, but the problem is cumulative and every year it adds up to more and more.”

Bob Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District, said it can take up to 20 years for stormwater runoff or groundwater to reach the wells, at which point the real impact can be determined. 

“What man does today the future generations will find,” Santoriello said. “But if they properly design it, if there is a proper sewage treatment plan that is allowed by the county, then I don’t think there would be a great impact.”

Residents have also expressed fear of what could happen to the already congested roadways in that area of Elwood, especially on Jericho Turnpike.

Petitioners point to an independent study published by Greenman-Pedersen Inc. in 2016. The traffic study said that the northbound approach of Old Country Road at Deer Park Road would “operate at an unacceptable level of service.”

You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I think a well-executed study without the flaws found in the developer’s study would have produced even worse implications on the traffic impact.” Huntington resident Andrew Kaplan said about the environmental impact statement: “But we don’t need additional analysis to tell us that a project of this scale will only exacerbate an already recognized material issue affecting our quality of life in Huntington.”

The proposed mall would add approximately 1,339 more drivers on the surrounding roads during the evening rush hour. The developer has proposed some of these traffic problems could be mitigated by building additional lanes for cars making turns onto the property.

“When you have something like this, you’re always looking at impacts, whether its traffic, environmental or community-wise,” Lupinacci said. “You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

In order to move forward with construction, the developer requires approval of a change of zone application by the town. Residents say Huntington officials would have to change the town’s comprehensive plan and alter its zoning laws.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said that he is skeptical about any rezoning request.

“Whenever an applicant seeks a zone-change classification, they come out of the gate with the heavy burden of persuading me why it should be granted,” Smyth said. “However, I am keeping an open mind until after the public hearing.”

A public hearing on the proposed mall will likely be pushed back to June, according to Lupinacci. The supervisor encouraged concerned residents to attend.

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