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Cops: Two gang members arrested

Wesley Erickson. Photo from SCPD
Wesley Erickson. Photo from SCPD
Wesley Erickson. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police say they arrested two gang members after searching a Huntington home on Thursday and uncovering drugs and loaded weapons.

Police executed a search warrant at the home, on Cedar Drive in Huntington, and investigators seized a loaded .40 caliber Smith and Wesson semiautomatic handgun, cocaine, marijuana, cash, digital scales and an assortment of drug packaging equipment, cops said in a statement. The drugs had a street value of more than $3,000.

Wesley Erickson, 31, a resident of the home, was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, two counts of third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, two counts of second-degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Andre Knox. Photo from SCPD
Andre Knox. Photo from SCPD

Andre Knox, 37, of Huntington Station, was charged with third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Erickson and Knox, who police said are both members of the Old Station Soldiers gang, were held overnight at the 2nd Precinct and are scheduled for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip on Sept. 11.

The police units involved included Narcotics Section detectives, 2nd Precinct Special Operations Team detectives, Criminal Intelligence Bureau detectives, and officers from the 2nd Precinct Gang Unit, Emergency Service Section and Canine Section. In a statement, Cops said the execution of the search warrant was “part of the Suffolk County Police Department’s continuing enforcement efforts in the Town of Huntington.”

Attorney information for the pair was not available on Friday morning.

Mario Buonpane pays respects at a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Heckscher Park last year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Mario C. Buonpane, Jr., a staunch local veterans’ activist, avid golfer and a family man, died on Monday after losing a vicious battle with prostate cancer. He was 83.

Buonpane, best known for his work with Huntington Town’s veterans — having served as a charter member and chairman of the Huntington Town Veterans Advisory Board and a past commander of the Northport American Legion Post 694 — is credited with spearheading the rehab of the Northport Veteran Administration Medical Center’s golf course, which brought golfers to the grounds and proceeds to the hospital, according to his son Mark Vincent (Buonpane).

Mario Buonpane speaks at last year’s town remembrance of 9/11. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Mario Buonpane speaks at last year’s town remembrance of 9/11. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“That’s his legacy,” Vincent said. “That will remain and serve the community for years and years to come.”

He received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army and he joined the town’s veterans advisory board as a charter member in 1987. He became chairman in 1993, and since its inception, the group enhanced Veterans Plaza at Huntington Town Hall with the completion of a number of memorials honoring veterans of all wars fought by the U.S.

“Our Veterans Plaza is one of the finest on Long Island and we still have plans to improve it,” he wrote in a list of his accomplishments.

He was also the chairman of the legion’s Veterans Affairs Golf and Tournament Committee, through which he helped negotiate a contract to take over the golf course in 1996. When the group took over, the course hadn’t been mowed in five years, the greens were diseased and there were no facilities, according to Buonpane. Since then, the course touts a clubhouse with a deck, new fairways and more.

Buonpane was instrumental in getting the Northport American Legion’s Boys State and Girls State programs up and running. The programs select girls and boys off to participate in a model governments to teach them how they work, and under Buonpane’s leadership, the number of candidates the legion has sponsored has grown, from one in 1982 to about 20. The program, “teaches you how to be a good citizen,” Vincent said.

Aside from his many community contributions, Buonpane was, at heart, a family man, The father and husband, who worked for Grumman as an electrical engineer and designed electrical harnesses on the lunar module always had time for sports with the kids, Vincent said.

“He taught us great values, he taught us how to earn things the honest way, play by the rules, tell the truth and have great integrity,” Vincent said.

On his work at Grumman, Vincent said, “he contributed to the greatest journey humans had ever done.”

Buonpane’s dedication and never-give-up attitude was his trademark, the son said. He took up running in his 50s and could only run a few laps around the track but ultimately trained until he completed the New York City Marathon. He still went to the gym, even with stage 4 cancer.

“He was tough,” Vincent said. “He was a trooper.”

Others in the Huntington Town community were touched by Buonpane’s contributions, too. Supervisor Frank Petrone issued a statement on Buonpane’s death.

“He worked tirelessly to support efforts ensuring that we all remember, honor and respect our veterans and that veterans got the services and benefits they earned by serving our country,” he said. “We will miss his presence as the master of ceremonies at our wreath ceremonies and other veterans’ events.”

Joe Sledge, communications director at the Northport VA, also spoke highly of Buonpane’s contributions. Sledge said he had known Buonpane since he first started working the VA 23 years ago.

“It was he who sponsored my entry into the American Legion over 14 years ago,” he said. “He made many significant contributions to Northport VA Medical Center through his time, talent, and countless generous acts.  All who knew him would agree that Mario was a thoughtful, hard-working man whose life’s mission was to brighten the lives of others, especially hospitalized veterans. He will be sorely missed.”

By Jared Cantor

On Sunday, Huntington’s Heckscher Park ball field was home to classic cars of all types at the annual Robert J. Bohaty Memorial Classic Auto Show. From Rat Rods to Muscle cars, there was a vehicle for everyone’s liking. The event is hosted by the Northport Centerport Lions Club.

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers freed a trapped bird in Northport. Photo from SCPD

A bird has got new wind beneath its wings, thanks to rescue efforts by the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau, whose officers freed the creature on Sunday after it became entangled on an offshore fuel platform in Northport.

Officers Charles Marchiselli and Michael O’Leary were aboard Marine Bravo when they observed the bird tangled in string along the railing of the platform, about two miles north of National Grid’s Northport power plant, at approximately 11:15 a.m. O’Leary distracted the bird with a wildlife pole while Marchiselli covered it with a blanket and cut the entangling lines.

The bird appeared uninjured and swam away after being freed, police said.

The officers saw the bird while they were conducting a homeland security check of the platform, which is used to offload fuel for the power plant.

National Grid owns and operates the plant, and sells its produced energy to utility PSEG Long Island, which distributes the power to Long Island residents.

The scene of the Friday evening crash on Woodbury Road. Photo by Marilyn McDermott

By Rohma Abbas & Elana Glowatz

An elderly woman died in Cold Spring Harbor Friday evening when she lost control of her car on Woodbury Road and crashed into the woods.

The Suffolk County Police Department said 80-year-old Eugenia Kouwenhoven, a Huntington resident, was driving a 2014 Buick Regal west on the road at the time of the crash, close to 6:30 p.m. She was pronounced dead at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Woodbury Road has been the topic of much debate at Huntington Town Board meetings, as residents have cited numerous car crashes along the road. The town commissioned a traffic study of the thoroughfare, but the stretch of roadway along which Kouwenhoven crashed and lost her life is not in the traffic calming study area, according to A.J. Carter, a spokesman for the town.

“The unfortunate accident occurred on a portion of Woodbury Road that is past Cold Spring Harbor train station, which is not part of the study area,” Carter said.

Marilyn McDermott, a resident of Woodbury Road, echoed similar sentiments. She questioned whether the accident had much to do with the safety road. She was on the scene shortly after the accident and said she didn’t see any skid marks.

“I’m not sure if it was inherent of the actual dangers of the road or singular to her,” McDermott said in a Monday phone interview.

Kouwenhoven was a widow, and a mother to three children, a grandmother to 10, and a great grandmother to four, according to her obituary on A.L Jacobsen Funeral Home’s website.

Attempts to reach Kouwenhoven’s family this week were unsuccessful.

Friends of Kouwenhoven, who also went by “Jean” or “Gene,” shared some of their memories and condolences on an online tribute page.

One person spoke of Kouwenhoven’s gourmet cooking skills and her “kind and thoughtful” nature. She said Kouwenhoven would often wash and style the hair of neighborhood girls before a birthday party.

“Can you imagine someone taking the time to [style] 2 or 3 young girls’ hair?” Janet Stanton Schaaf wrote. “It took hours! I felt so pampered and so glamorous, and so cared for. What a wonderful feeling”

Schaaf continued, “Jean had such a positive impact on my life and I hope she now sees how much she added to our little Huntington neighborhood of kids. Thanks for everything, Jean.”

Cathy and Walter Kennedy also left a message honoring Kouwenhoven.

“She was so full of life and knew how to enjoy it,” they wrote. “She had a special way of wrapping herself around your heart. We feel blessed to have known her and to have shared many a time with her.”

While he’s not handling the case and doesn’t know the exact details, 2nd Precinct Dt. Sgt. James Scimoni said it’s “definitely possible” the woman could have undergone a medical emergency before crashing. But there’s no confirmation of that, he said.

On the subject of Woodbury Road traffic safety improvements, town officials have already embarked on fixes to attempt to make the road safer.

On Tuesday, the town released a statement noting that it had implemented the first phase of its traffic study consultants’ recommendations. Town highway department workers trimmed trees along the shoulder of the road, running 2.5 miles from Main Street in Huntington village to Pulaski Road in Cold Spring Harbor. The workers also replaced road signs to increase visibility — the 165 new signs are larger than the ones they replaced, including larger chevron signs to further highlight the horizontal curves in the roadway.

The town installed new turn and reverse turn signs to replace curve and reverse curve signs, bringing the signage up to federal standards. Also, the town upgraded the reflectivity of traffic signs.

“That stuff is the first phase,” Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) said in a phone interview. “Now we’re waiting for the analysis of the road for the second phase to implement the suggestions for narrowing the road, the markings and the strips in the middle.”

This story was last updated on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 5 p.m.

Proposal would add community notice, input

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town residents looking to create two-family homes could face new requirements for approval, if a proposed law gets the green light.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) is behind a new measure that would change the process for residents to create two-family homes in the R-5 Residence District. Currently, residents are permitted as-of-right to create or convert properties into owner-occupied two-family homes in R-5 without going through any planning or zoning board review. This legislation would mandate owners apply to obtain a special-use permit from the Huntington Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which would review the application on a number of criteria and would also consider community input.

Those criteria include aesthetics, like ensuring the house looks like a single-family home of no more than two stories, and restricting features like exposed cellars, large attics, tall roofs, multiple driveways and decks and
prominent secondary entrances, according to the proposed law. The owner also has to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the board that he or she would sustain “severe hardship” if the application was denied and that the hardship wasn’t self-created.

The goal of the law, Edwards said, is to afford neighbors the chance to comment on the application. Edwards said she was inspired to create this legislation after speaking with a Greenlawn resident who came home one day surprised to find a two-family home in the community.

“You shouldn’t be able to go to work one day thinking that the house being built next to you is a single family and come home from work and find it’s a two-family house,” Edwards said. “Intuitively, that just doesn’t sound like something we want to do.”

It’s not a great number of properties this would affect, according to Edwards. Since 1992, the annual number of permits issued for two-family homes averages about .8 a year. 

Edwards added that the new requirements would bring creating two-family housing in line with the public notice requirements for residents looking to create
accessory apartments.

“I’m not anti-two-family housing, so don’t get me wrong,” she said. “The only thing that I want this to do is to give the property owners the same right they have today, meet the same requirements, but add the fact that a community in your neighborhood that you are building a two-family house [in] should be able to
receive notification.”

When polled about their thoughts on the legislation, which will be up for a town board public hearing next month, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) offered differing views.

Berland said she doesn’t think property owners should have “an unfettered right” to convert a one-family home into a two-family home.

“I’m more concerned about the community than I am about the property owner in this instance.”

The councilwoman said she supports the legislation but hasn’t made up her mind yet on how she’d vote, and she looks forward to hearing what people say at the public hearing.

Cook said he was researching the law. He expressed concern about the legislation being burdensome. “I just think it’s another way of overregulating.”

Richard Koubek, the president of the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, said his group is vetting the proposal at an Aug. 31 steering committee meeting, but at a glance, it appears the that the code change is “a smart move” to involve community input.

“The coalition supports multiple modes of housing and we understand that when you change from the single family to different housing modes, it creates some real nervousness,” he said. “And so the more that we can dispel and control that nervousness on the part of neighbors, with sound, sensible regulations, the better.”

The public hearing will take place on Sept. 16 at 2 p.m.

Project is one of three slated for Huntington Station

A rendering of what the affordable veteran housing project on Depot Road and E9th Street would look like. A zone change is required to move the plan forward. Photo from Fred DeSanti

The Huntington Town Board will consider changing the zoning on its own motion of a Huntington Station property next month to make way for a veterans affordable housing project.

The proposal, which would be built on a quarter-acre vacant lot on the corner of Depot Road and East 9th Street, entails creating four, one-bedroom affordable units in a two-story building with a lobby, according to property owner Fred DeSanti. The town board is considering changing the zoning from C-6 Huntington Station Overlay District to C-1 Office Residence District to accommodate the project.

DeSanti said in thinking up ways to develop the property that he and his brother-in-law Douglas Quimby own both became interested in helping veterans while also doing their part to revitalize Huntington Station.

“We just thought this was a way we could do something good for the community [and] we could provide much needed housing for the veterans,” he said.

The town and the community, he said, received the project warmly. Joan Cergol, the executive director of the town’s Economic Development Corporation, said DeSanti approached her with the idea in part to contribute to the area’s face-lift while also giving veterans an affordable place to live. She said the town is supportive of the project.

DeSanti’s project isn’t the only veterans housing project slated for the area. VetsBuild is in the process of building the country’s first ever Department of Energy zero-energy home built by vets and for vets on Depot Road near East 5th Street, a project that is in final reviews at Huntington Town. Also, the town is working on pushing forward Columbia Terrace, a 14-unit affordable housing condo complex for veterans to be located at Railroad Street and Lowndes Avenue.

“There seems to be an organic appearance of veteran-based housing in Huntington Station, which is a welcome type of a development as we are pursing new development in the downtown area,” Cergol said.

Once it is completed, the VetsBuild project — a green project — will create and generate as much energy as it uses, according to Rick Wertheim, the senior vice president of green initiatives and housing at United Way of Long Island. It will accommodate five veterans with special needs.

Asked why build in Huntington Station, Wertheim said they liked that the area’s slated for redevelopment. The town board has been working with master developer Renaissance Downtowns to redevelop the area.

Building in such an area “gives the folks who live there the opportunity to walk to a really dynamic living experience as opposed to being densely nested in a residential area where they’re kind of cut off from everything,” Wertheim said.

Cergol said she believes the word is getting out about change in Huntington Station.

“I think that there’s a general sense of optimism and enthusiasm to be a part of positive change in Huntington Station,” she said. “Whether you are a government, a private property owner or a nonprofit … everybody is looking through the same kind of prism now.”

Cops charge Eddie Schmidt with grand, petit larceny as association continues search for missing finances

Former Poquott civic President Eddie Schmidt goes over civic matters over the summer. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Former Poquott Village Trustee Eddie Schmidt, who was accused of stealing more than $23,000 from the civic association while the 22-year-old was the group’s president, was arrested and charged with grand and petit larcenies last week.

Police said Schmidt, who was arrested at 10:45 a.m. on Aug. 17 at his home on Birchwood Avenue, was charged with two counts of petit larceny and one count of grand larceny for incidents of theft that occurred between September 2013 and May 2014, according to a police spokeswoman. She said Schmidt took cash from the Poquott Civic Association.

Tad Scharfenberg, an attorney representing Schmidt, called the situation “outrageous,” and said “from what I’ve seen he’s actually done nothing wrong.” In a phone interview on Tuesday, Scharfenberg defended his client and said he didn’t steal any money.

“They’re just unhappy with the way it was spent.”

Scharfenberg said Schmidt didn’t spend any of the money on himself. Asked what he spent the money on, Schmidt’s attorney said they’re analyzing that now, and he called it a “situation where I don’t think he did a great job of record keeping.”

“This is a really good kid,” Scharfenberg said. “College kid, working hard. They’re trying to blow him up and it’s not right.”

The arrest marks a milestone in a saga that had gripped the village earlier this year, when civic officials alleged he took more than $23,000 while he was the president of the Poquott Civic Association.

Officials had claimed that while president, Schmidt used money raised at civic events to purchase things unrelated to civic expenses, like gasoline, Vineyard Vines clothing and dining at gourmet restaurants.

Schmidt resigned as president of the group last September.

Earlier this year, Schmidt fired back against the accusations in an email, breaking his silence since the allegations arose late last year. He called the claims rumors.

“The silence was a courtesy as I thought the present Board was genuinely working towards a mutual agreement between us to benefit the community. Unfortunately, the board was not genuine in its dealings, and has acted contrary to resolution,” Schmidt said in the letter. “I am writing this letter now to explain the situation, as I have genuine concerns regarding the presentation of the information by the Board, and by the climate of rumor that has spread throughout our village.”

In that letter, he spoke about the events he helped bring forward as president of the civic, despite carrying a hefty workload while attending college at 19 years old.

“I did my best to work towards common ground while rumors became widespread, and incorrect information and damaging assumptions were presented.”

In March, Poquott Civic Association officials spoke publicly about a potential settlement between Schmidt and the board for $15,000. President Carol Pesek said at the time that the settlement offer was for $15,000 — $5,000 less than the money originally demanded late last year — and also included a controversial confidentiality clause that would forbid the board from speaking of the matter. There was also a nondisclosure clause that would forbid it from letting the community know where the money came from, and an agreement that Schmidt would not be prosecuted, the civic board said. But civic officials couldn’t get past the confidentiality clause.

It’s not immediately clear what happened to that settlement offer.

To date, 80 mosquitoes and seven birds test positive for virus in Suffolk

Stock photo

Nine more mosquitos and two birds have tested positive for West Nile virus in various neighborhoods across Suffolk County, Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken announced on Monday.

The mosquito samples, collected from Aug. 11 to 14, hailed from Huntington, Selden, West Babylon, Bay Shore, Holbrook, Farmingville and Watch Hill on Fire Island. A crow collected on Aug. 14 from Stony Brook and a blue jay, collected on Aug. 18 from Smithtown, also tested positive for the virus.

To date, this year Suffolk’s total West Nile count comes to 80 mosquitos and seven birds. No humans or horses have tested positive for the virus in Suffolk this year.

First detected in birds and mosquito samples in Suffolk in 1999, and again each year thereafter, the virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito.

While Dr. Tomarken said there’s no cause for alarm, the county is urging residents to reduce exposure to he virus, which “can be debilitating to humans.”

“The breed of mosquito known as Culex pipiens-restuans lay their eggs in fresh water-filled containers, so dumping rainwater that collects in containers around your house is important,” he said.

Residents should try to eliminate stagnant water where mosquitos breed, in order to reduce the mosquito population around homes. That includes: disposing of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers; removing discarded tires; cleaning clogged gutters; turning over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when they’re not being used; changing the water in bird baths; and draining water from pool covers.

Most people infected with West Nile will experience mild or no symptoms, but some can develop sever symptoms including high fever, headache, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness and paralysis. The symptoms may last several weeks, and neurological effects may be permanent. Individuals — especially those 50 years of age or older or those with compromised immune systems, who are most at risk — are urged to take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Residents are advised to avoid mosquito bites by minimizing outdoor activities between dusk and dawn; wearing shoes and socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors for long periods of time, or when mosquitos are more active; using mosquito repellant when outdoors and following label directions carefully; making sure all windows and doors have screens and that all screens are in good condition.

To report dead birds, call the West Nile virus hotline in Suffolk County at 631-787-2200 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Residents are encouraged to take a photograph of any bird in question.

To report mosquito problems or stagnant pools of water, call the Department of Public Works’ Vector Control Division at 631-852-4270.

For medical questions related to West Nile virus, call 631-854-0333.

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.