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Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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Steve Stern. Photo from Stern's office

Former Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said he knew his neighbors best and his confidence was backed up when the ballots were counted Tuesday night.


Special Election Results
Steve Stern (D)          5,748
Janet Smitelli (R)       3,949

Stern became the first Democrat elected to represent the 10th Assembly District in New York State Assembly in more than 30 years by defeating Republican candidate Janet Smitelli, 5,748 to 3,969 votes, in the April 24 special election.

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island,” he said “That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly.”

Stern received approximately 59 percent of the ballots cast, according to the unofficial results posted by Suffolk County Board of Elections. He ran on the Democrat, Working Families, Independence, Women’s Equality and Reform lines.

The newly elected assemblyman called it a “historic win” indicative of the larger political dialogue happening across the country.

“So many people in our community believe that the federal government is going in a dangerous direction,” Stern said. “If Washington is not going to address the issues and what’s going on, we have a responsibility to do it up in Albany.”

“If Washington is not going to address the issues and what’s going on, we have a responsibility to do it up in Albany.”
– Steve Stern

Stern will be sworn in April 30 to take over the seat vacated by Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R). The new state assemblyman thanked his campaign volunteers and said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) had called to offer his congratulations.

The state’s 10th Assembly District has been represented by Republicans since the early 1980s. The longest-serving assemblyman was Huntington Station resident Jim Conte (R) who held the office from 1988 until his death in October 2012. Lupinacci, who worked for Conte, then won the seat in a 2012 special election.

“I’d like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to my opponent Steve Stern upon his victory,” Smitelli posted April 24 on Facebook. “During this campaign we discussed the issues and got the community engaged. I wish him the best of luck.”

She could not be reached immediately for further comment.

Stern previously said if elected he intended to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it comes to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

His first action upon being elected, in keeping with a personal tradition started during his days in county Legislature, Stern said, was driving around town starting to pull up his campaign signs.

Clarence Beavers was the last surviving original member of the first all African-American parachute unit

A secluded Kings Park trail was dedicated to honor a Huntington veteran, who is remembered as “humble” and yet “a trailblazer” by his family and friends.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation unveiled a plaque April 20 dedicating the walking path of the Kings Park Unique Area off Meadow Road to Sgt. Clarence Beavers. He was the last surviving original member of the first class of African-American paratroopers from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known better as the Triple Nickles. He died Dec. 4, 2017. “This is a long overdue honor to someone who obviously was a great American and a hometown hero here in Suffolk County,” said Peter Scully, the county’s deputy executive.

During World War II, Beavers and his fellow paratroopers worked jointly with the U.S. military and United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service on Operation Firefly in 1945. Their mission, as smokejumpers, was to respond to any threat or fires caused by the Japanese incendiary bomb attacks on the nation’s western forests.

“My father would be honored, very honored. It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”
– Charlotta Beavers

In the summer of 1945, the Triple Nickle paratroopers responded to 36 fires and made more than 1,200 jumps, according to Deidra McGee, the U.S. Forest Services’ liaison for the Triple Nickles. McGee said the unit also led the way in the racial desegregation of the military starting in 1948.

“As people come and enjoy this beautiful trail, they can think of Sgt. Beavers and what he worked so hard to protect for all of us, the beautiful forests of the United States, particularly the west coast,” said state Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). “It’s an appropriate tribute.”

The Kings Park Unique Area is a 69-acre green space where residents can hike, bow hunt and go wildlife watching. The 0.3-mile trail dedicated to Beavers is handicapped accessible and features an interpretive kiosk that tells the story of the Triple Nickles. The site was chosen because it’s the closest state-owned woodlands to his home, according to DEC spokesman Bill Fonda.

“My father would be honored, very honored,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said. “It was very important to him that the 555th [battalion] and what they did be remembered.”

Lelena Beavers said she and her husband, Clarence, moved to Huntington in the late 1980s, after he finished his military service, to raise their five daughters and son. He continued to work for the federal government in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense working as a computer systems analyst and programmer.

“He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”
– Rev. James Rea, Jr.

“Wherever he went, he would always get involved in the community,” his daughter Charlotta Beavers said.

Rev. James Rea,Jr., of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Huntington Station, recalled how Beavers played a pivotal role in helping the church after fire approximately 25 years ago when it was without a pastor.

“Clarence Beavers stepped up out of the ashes, not afraid of the fire or the smoke, and had the leadership that was necessary to have the church restored,” the pastor said. “He was a man of faith, a man of courage, and a true leader in his community.”

Beavers was also a member of the American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, involved in the Wyandanch Reserve Officers’ Training Corps., and helped found the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, Inc. and traveled nationally speaking about the unit.

“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mr. Beavers that those who served in a secret war, jumping into fires in near impossible conditions while fighting racism at every turn,” said Smithtown Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R). “Everyone here tell his story, tell their story to everyone you meet, and let it be known that courage has no color

Lake Avenue business district's water main work slated to begin in May will be postponed

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kyle Barr

The assessment for sewers in St. James Lake Avenue business district may be arriving on the town doorstep soon.

It’s only been days since Smithtown Town Board voted April 10 unanimously to pay $24,000 to H2M Architects + Engineers to provide a study of whether installing a dry sewer line is economically viable. Yet, George Desmarais, the wastewater department manager at H2M, said the assessment would be finished in about a month.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A,” Desmarais said.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A.”
— George Desmarais

He went on to explain the study will look at how much sewage wastewater is produced by the commercial business district to determine what is needed, and the cost of installing dry sewer mains at the same time as the water mains.

At a public meeting hosted by the Community Association of Greater St. James, Desmarais and town board members discussed the sewers and other upcoming projects for St. James.

Although the town board has $2.4 million set aside for water main installation from its 2018 capital budget, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) stated that the town is still looking for additional funding for the dry sewer lines.

“What we do not have, what’s not budgeted for is funding for a dry force main for future sewers,” Wehrheim said. “I have been in discussions with higher levels of government to go after some funding methods on how we might possibly come up with enough funding to do that.”

Wehrheim said he had a sit-down meeting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to discuss possible sources.

Wehrheim asked St. James residents to agree with putting off the  water main project, originally slated to begin in May,  for one year so they could install everything, including the dry sewer lines, all at once. He said it would be more economical for the town and better for businesses.

“All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way,” he said.

The planned dry sewer lines will be gravity fed lines using the areas natural slope, according to Desmarais. The pump station for the sewers is planned to be a 30×30-square-foot area, but the exact location of the station has not yet been determined.

All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way.
— Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim previously stated he was looking to negotiate with Gyrodone LLC to use the treatment station it proposes to build on the Flowerfields land, the property off Route 25A in St. James that is often used to host community festivals.

“If we do the concrete and asphalt, we’re just going to spend the money haphazardly and then 10, 15 years again, they are going to come back and say ‘we need more money’” Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said. “We have to do this smart.”

Deborah Powers, owner of Hither Brook Floral and Gift Boutique in St. James, was concerned that the construction would disrupt her business when work would be done on the roads and sidewalks.

“I’ve been through roadwork before, I know what it’s going to do, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Powers said.

Wehrheim mentioned that the town was looking at means of doing the construction without interrupting daily business.

“We’re looking at the percentage cost for doing the paving at night. I think that’s something that very much will be feasible,” he said. “The other thing that we’re looking at instead of having this be spread out among contractors, is to see if we can come up with enough funding by putting this out as one request for proposal and have a larger contractor come in who can subcontract the work so that would speed up a project like this.”

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than 95 Smithtown-area teens rolled up their sleeves to help ready Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve for visitors.

The Town of Smithtown hosted a volunteer cleanup for high school and middle school students at the Commack park April 21 in honor of Global Youth Service Day, also a day ahead of Earth Day. The teens were put to work helping clean up the pollinator and butterfly garden, clearing fallen branches and debris from the apple orchard and sprucing up the animal pens.

Jeff Gurmin, director of Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, and his staff provided educational lessons on the rescued animals while the students were performing the cleanup. One of these lessons involved learning the importance of Mason bees in the ecosystem and installing new nesting jars for the bees inside the pollinator gardens.

Cast your ballot for the April 24 special election from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at regular polling locations

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli, and Democrat Party candidate Steve Stern. File photos

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Huntington political newcomer and a former Suffolk County legislator are vying for votes to become the area’s new state Assembly representative next Tuesday.

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) are both hoping to be elected to fill the assembly seat vacated by Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to represent the 10th Assembly District in the April 24 special election.

“It’s a very important election for the 10th Assembly District,” Lupinacci said. “It’s very critical to remind your family, your neighbors and your friends to vote on that day as every vote is going to count in this special election.”

Janet Smitelli

Smitelli has lived in Huntington for more than 30 years but is relatively new to politics, referring to herself as an outsider. She has not held an elected position before claiming recent events have inspired her to throw her hat in the ring.

Janet Smitelli. Photo from Smitelli’s campaign

“I’ve become politically involved because I’m getting pretty sick of what’s going on, and I know I can use my talents and experience to make some type of difference, to help and be part of the fight,” she said in an interview with TBR News Media.

The longtime Huntington native is a mother of three and has strong community ties. Smitelli served as an assistant Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout troops and taught Sunday school. For more than 30 years, she has fought to protect residents as a civil litigator. This April, she hopes to add New York State assemblywoman to that list.

“I’m someone who has been very busy these past few months, getting the word out, and getting my name out,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get to as many people as I can to let them know how sincere and passionate I am about this.”

As a lawyer, she has represented those filing lawsuits and those on the receiving end of them, motor vehicle collisions, slip-and-falls and, predominantly over the last 10 years, construction accidents. She spends her free time actively volunteering in the Huntington community.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately, and I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

— Janet Smitelli

If elected, Smitelli said she wants to tackle what she believes are the major challenges facing Huntington. This includes pledging to eliminate excessive taxation, receive funds to preserve and protect waterways and our drinking water, increase funding for K-12 extracurricular programs and veer young people away from gangs and opioids by keeping them involved in community programs.

She also said she wants to strengthen the transparency between government and residents by making it easier to access information and calling for reform.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately,” she said. “And I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

Read more about Smitelli in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Steve Stern

Stern is a familiar face to many members of the Huntington community, having served as their longtime Suffolk County legislator. He left the position Dec. 31 due to being term limited after 12 years but now hopes to bring his knowledge and experience to Albany.

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

“I’m running on the key issue of great concern to the residents of the 10th Assembly District which is taxes,” he said. “Particularly given the changes at the federal level which will have a dramatic impact on middle-class families in our area.”

While in the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in Suffolk.

Recently, the Democratic candidate spoke out against the proposed Villadom Corp.development to build a 486,380-square-foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood citing traffic and quality-of-life issues.

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it comes to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island. That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly.”

— Steve Stern

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island,” Stern said. “That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly. I know who I represent very well. I was elected and re-elected by my neighbors because they know Stern was dependable and a proven leader who delivered for his constituents.”

Read more about Stern in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Go vote

The polls will be open April 24 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters should go to their normal polling locations used in the November general elections.

The candidate who is elected to represent the 10th District will serve approximately 130,000 residents, according to 2010 Census data, which includes all or part of Cold Spring Harbor, East Northport, Greenlawn, Lloyd Harbor, Lloyd Neck, Melville, Huntington and Huntington Station.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school district taxpayers will be asked to vote three times when they head to the polls May 15.

Huntington’s board of education unanimously adopted its proposed $129,812,991 budget for the 2018-19 school year at its April 19 meeting. The board members also elected to put two additional measures asking for the release of reserve funds to tackle various capital projects and repairs needed in the district’s eight buildings.

“I do believe the budget we are discussing this evening does not short change any educational programs,” Superintendent James Polansky said at the April 19 meeting. “We’ve been very responsible in terms of how we put our budget together and taking into account the taxpayer burden the way we do.”


Adopted 2018-19 Budget:
$129,812,911 total
2.85 percent budget-to-budget increase
2.68 tax levy increase
2.68 tax rate increase

If approved, the adopted 2018-19 spending plan would represent a budget-to-budget increase of 2.85 percent, or approximately $3.6 million more than the current year. The primary costs driving up the budget include the district’s approximately $800,000 increase in contributions to the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System, health care insurance for faculty and staff and rising transportation costs.

Polansky said the district has set aside funds to continue to increase and expand its education programs. Huntington High School will have a computer science course added as well as a virtual enterprise course, a new business elective which simulates an entrepreneurial business for students to run.

“Not many schools have this program yet, Huntington will be one of the first,” Polansky said.

The proposed budget also includes funds to redesign the math curriculum for the mid-level grades and augmenting the elementary school and social studies programs.

State Aid

Since March 26, the district has been able to trim more than $750,000 from its initial draft budget to bring the proposed tax levy intreasse to 2.68 percent. This is largely due to receiving $479,000 more in foundation aid than anticipated after state lawmakers approved the final state budget, according to Polansky, a significant boost from a mere $22,000 expected under the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The board of  education also approved using $155,000 from the district’s early retirement system reserves to offset the tax levy increase.

“It sounds cliché, but a lot of us receive tax bills twice a year and they are not pretty to look at,” the superintendent said. “We are trying to be mindful.”

Proposition #2:  Use $7.1 million from district’s capital reserves for infrastructural improvements

Proposition #3: Create a new Building Improvement Fund in order to be able to use funding from the Repair Reserves to replace the turf field

If the adopted budget is approved by voters, the average Huntington homeowner will see their annual school taxes increase by an estimated $213.69, or approximately $17.81 a month. This is based on the average home having an assessed value of $3,430, in which an assessed value is a dollar value placed on the property by the Town of Huntington solely for the purposes of calculating taxes based on comparable home sales and other factors.

Proposition #2

Proposition 2 will ask Huntington residents to approve the release of about $7 million from the district’s capital reserves fund for critical infrastructure repairs. The list of projects includes the replacement of the roofs at three elementary schools, Flower Hill, Jefferson and Southdown at $1.5 million each; tile replacement in 17 bathrooms at Jefferson and Nathaniel Woodhull School; security vestibules at Flower Hill and Washington primary schools; and replacing two of Woodhull’s boilers. Polansky said the full funding necessary is already available from the district’s reserves and projects cannot be sent to the state for approval, a step needed to begin construction, until the voters approve the funding. If approved by voters, Proposition 2 will have no impact on the tax levy or tax rate.

Proposition #3

Under Proposition 3, the district seeks to create a new building improvement fund. The superintendent said making a new fund is necessary in order to transfer money from the district’s existing repair reserve, which can primarily be used in emergencies, to a newly named capital reserve that will be used for turf field replacement. The district’s turf field is nearing 10 years old, according to Polansky, which is its recommended lifespan. If Proposition 3 is approved, it will also have no impact on the tax levy or tax rate.

A formal budget hearing will be held Monday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School auditorium.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine send joint letter to state representatives

Huntington riders may experience some problems with upcoming station work. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The spark of hope given to electrifying the North Shore branch of the Long Island Rail Road last November convinced local leaders to take up the charge.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has joined with other town supervisors to urge state lawmakers to moved forward with a feasibility study on the electrification of the LIRR service line from Huntington Station east to Port Jefferson Station. Currently, trains on the line east of Huntington run on diesel fuel.

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven,” Lupinacci (R) said. “For the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven, for the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”
—Chad Lupinacci

On April 4, Lupinacci along with Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015.

“For decades this project has been a concept that could not reach the critical mass necessary to become a reality,” reads the April 4 letter. “However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved — including where to site the train cars.”

The letter details the beneficial impacts electrification of the Port Jeff branch would have for each of the townships.

In Huntington, the five stations — Greenlawn, Northport, Centerport, Fort Salonga and Commack — would benefit from additional transportation options and commuters heading east, according to Lupinacci.

Wehrheim stressed in the Town of Smithtown the infrastructural investment is a key pillar in the revitalization of Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James business areas. The town has invested significant funds in this year’s capital budget to these areas.

However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that
prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved.”
— April 4 letter

In Brookhaven, Romaine said electrification of the rails would foster revitalization of Port Jefferson Station and allow for an easier commute to Stony Brook University, which has approximately 40,000 students and staff members. He also noted it would help ease traffic congestion on local roadways in the communities near SBU.

The project has received support from groups such as the Long Island Association in the past, and a more recent push from state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). LaValle met with Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board member Mitchell Paley last November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said, in a November interview with TBR News Media. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

“This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”
— Chad Lupinacci

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

“You are looking at several millions per mile of track,” Lupinacci affirmed. “This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”

There is renewed hope that with a newlyannounced LIRR president, Philip Eng of Smithtown, that a feasibility study willEd be funded.

“New leadership brings in a different perspective,” Lupinacci said. “I think this is a good situation for us to be in with new leadership taking over the helm.”

An entrance ramp onto the Southern State Parkway which shows signs warning of no commercial vehicles allowed and the overheight vehicle detector system. Photo from Gov. Cuomo's Office

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The parents of two Huntington teens seriously injured when a coach bus slammed into a Southern State Parkway overpass are suing the driver and transportation company.

Frank and Allison Sgrizzi filed the first lawsuit April 11 seeking $5 million for the traumatic injuries suffered by their 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Samantha Sgrizzi was one of dozens of Huntington High School students coming home April 9 from a spring break trip to Eastern Europe on a coach bus traveling from John F. Kennedy International Airport headed to Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington via the Belt and Southern State parkways. The coach bus slammed into the Exit 18 Eagle Avenue overpass — which has a 7-foot, 7-inch clearance — sheering off the vehicle’s roof and sending debris raining down on students.

The teenager was impaled by a piece of debris and fractured her right femur in the crash, according to court documents. She was brought to a nearby hospital for immediate surgery.


Lawsuit #1
Filed by: The Sgrizzi family, of Huntington
Injured:  Samantha Sgrizzi, 17
Injuries: fractured femur, impaled
Seeking: $5 million

The lawsuit accuses the tour company; the driver, Troy Gaston of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and the transportation company, Journey Bus Lines, of being “negligent and careless in failing to take proper and suitable precautions to avoid the crash herein, not limited to, failing to provide, obtain and/or utilize a global position system suitable and certified for use by commercial vehicles.”

Attorney John Giuffré, who is representing the Sgrizzi family, has requested the case be heard by a jury. Giuffré did not respond to requests for an interview on the case.

On April 13, Huntington father Richard Bonitz also filed a lawsuit against the driver and bus company seeking monetary compensation for the injuries suffered by his daughter in Nassau County Supreme Court.

Erin Bonitz, 17, received a traumatic brain injury, facial fractures and several lacerations as result of the bus crash, according to attorney Robert Sullivan of Garden City. Sullivan said she was treated immediately at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens and has since been released home where she is continuing her recovery.

The lawsuit accuses Gaston of ignoring clearly posted signs warning of Eagle Avenue overpass clearance height and “negligently using a noncommercial vehicle GPS device” which directed him to take a route utilizing the Belt and Southern State parkways, according to court documents. New York state law prohibits buses and commercial vehicles from traveling on these limited-access parkways.


Lawsuit #2
Filed by: The Bonitz family, of Huntington
Injured:  Erin Bonitz, 17
Injuries: head injury, facial lacerations
Seeking: trial by jury for monetary damages

They also seek to hold Journey Bus Lines responsible for the accident for its failure to equip the coach bus with a commercial GPS system. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration advised transportation companies to install these systems in 2013, as it has the capability to warn truck and bus drivers about the clearance heights of bridges along their planned route.Sullivan said that the Bonitz family will not make a specific demand for compensation.

Journey Bus Lines did not respond to requests for comment on these lawsuits. Gaston could not be reached for comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced last December a $4.3 million project to install overheight vehicle detectors at 13 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Southern State Parkway. These detectors are installed at the top of on-ramps and relay an invisible beam set at the specific height needed to clear the parkway’s bridges. If a vehicle breaks the beam, the device triggers a colored LED message sign to flash a warning to the driver, alerting the truck or bus will not clear the bridge.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation, confirmed these detectors have been installed at the Eagle Avenue overpass but said they are not yet active due to calibration and testing. Morrissey admitted even if the detectors had been functioning, they would not have prevented the accident. They are not set up to scan for overheight vehicles entering from the Belt Parkway, as the coach bus did.

The National Transportation Safety Board was also notified of the accident, according to police, but it did not meet its response criteria. It will be monitoring the investigation.

The crash remains under open investigation by New York State police. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to contact the state police at 631-756-3300.

Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge in Smithtown is a short distance away from Paul T. Given County Park. Photo from Google Maps

As the popularity of vaping products grows, Smithtown officials are considering ways to keep the products out of children’s hands.

Smithtown Town Board has plans to consider changing town zoning laws to restrict any store whose primary purpose is the sale of any e-liquid, vape product or indoor smoking from opening up within 1,500 feet of schools, churches or public parks in an effort to dissuade teens from using these types of products.

“For this age group, it’s very unhealthy and easily accessible,” said Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), who helped sponsor the ordinance. “They kind of market it like candy, and they name the different flavors after candy names. So It’s very appealing to kids.”

If approved, the restriction would not be retroactive, so it won’t  affect any current  businesses near schools, parks or churches. Inzerillo said she hopes that the zoning change will effectively dissuade these shops from opening near commercial districts.

“Lucky for Smithtown, most of our parks, churches and schools all are close to our main streets,” the councilwoman said.

The town is still waiting on an environmental impact study to be completed by the state on the effect of the proposed ordinance. After that, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town attorney may need to look at any adjustments, but he believes the ordinance will go through.

“I think it’s going to pass, yes,” Wehrheim said. “I believe having [vape and hookah shops] in a close proximity to church or a school is problematic.”

We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use.”

— Matthew Neebe

Matthew Neebe, director at nonprofit Horizons Counseling and Education Center, said that while there have been limited long-term studies on whether or not vape products have negative health effects, he believes these products can harm children’s development.

“We’ve seen an increase in youth under the age of 21 who use these products, which is very concerning, because that is sometimes seen as a gateway into more serious substance use,” Neebe said. “I think this step a good place to start. Kids tend to participate in things that are convenient for them.”

Amar Patel, owner of Fire & Ice Hookah Lounge near Paul T. Given County Park in Smithtown, has had his own troubles with the town. His business is temporarily closed while they renovate the building to bring it into compliance with Smithtown fire codes, but he plans to reopen soon. Patel said that vape and hookah get an unfair reputation from the rest of the community.

“I don’t think [the Town of Smithtown] supports any tobacco product, smoking or anything” Patel said. “I mean my personal opinion, I would say when it comes to hookah lounges it’s more of a hang out, where you go after dinner. Almost like you are going to a cigar lounge, then go about your day.”

Patel said he believes that cigarette use should be a bigger concern than hookah lounges or vaping, stressing that he does not believe hookah use is addictive unlike
smoking cigarettes
.

The zoning ordinance is expected to be voted on at the April 26 town board meeting.

June 19 date set for public referendum to sell Lake Avenue firehouse to fire department

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents have the opportunity to give their two cents on the effectiveness of their local fire rescue services.

The commissioners of St. James Fire District have launched an online survey asking for residents, taxpayers and business operators in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide their opinions on the fire rescue services’ strengths, weaknesses and what needs improvement. All responses are due by April 30.

Edward Springer Sr., chairman of the board, said the survey is part of an independent study being conducted by RFG Fire Rescue Consulting on the St. James Fire District. The study will take a statistical look at the fire district’s response to emergency calls, starting from when a call comes in, who responds, how long it takes units to arrive at the scene and the effectiveness of the response. Firefighters, emergency responders and staff for the fire district have been given a separate survey to complete to offer their insight.

“There were questions raised by the Village of the Head of the Harbor, who we contract with, and some community associations that has brought us to getting more details,” Springer said. “That way we can continue going forward with facts, rather than going forward with mistruths that have been posted on Facebook.”

It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?”
— Bill Kearney

At a Jan. 22 civic meeting, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the fire district’s proposed consolidation plan to operate all trucks out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters, saying it would significantly increase response times for his residents, possibly placing them at increased risk. The village has a three-year contract for fire and ambulance services with St. James Fire District that expires Dec. 31.

Bill Kearney, vice chairman of the board, said the St. James fire commissioners are looking at consolidation in hopes of improving emergency response times. Kearney said delays are often caused by a lack of available personnel, who are sometimes split between the two firehouses, and the commissioners believe consolidation could fix the issue.

The St. James Fire Department — the 501(c)(3) organization that represents volunteers in the fire and EMS services — currently has approximately 100 members, according to Springer. This is down from a record high of 125 members, and yet they are answering more calls for help than ever. In 2017, the St. James Fire District — made up of elected officials who are responsible for raising taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment that volunteers use — answered 1,423 emergency calls.

Kearney said the board hopes the study the consulting firm produces can provide insight on the operational value of the Route 25A firehouse. The district anticipates a preliminary draft of the study will be available for review mid-May.

“It costs us a lot of money to have that building, is that building necessary for us to have a proper response?” he asked.

The vice chairman estimated it costs the fire district approximately $80,000 a year for the Route 25A firehouse to cover utilities, maintenance and other basic costs.

It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters.”
—Marty Thompson

The future of the white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A, built in 1922, has been an ongoing issue of concern. The commissioners first announced their plans to sell off the building in August 2017. The St. James Fire Department was guaranteed first opportunity to purchase it back, based on its initial contract of sale with the fire district.

“It’s not a historic building, but there’s a history to all of us here in town, especially the firefighters,” said Marty Thompson, president of the St. James Fire Department. “I would never want to see that building get knocked down. I honestly feel the best hope for that building is that the firefighters get it back.”

A tentative date of June 19 is set for the public referendum in which St. James taxpayers will be asked to approve the sale of the Route 25A firehouse from the fire district back to the fire department.

The department’s volunteer firefighters have already voted in favor of purchasing the building, according to Thompson, to maintain it as a landmark and for the community’s use. He assured the nonprofit organization can provide proper funding to provide for its upkeep.

If the referendum vote fails, he said the fire district could potentially close and shutter the firehouse entirely, give it to the county or state as excess property for their use, or sell it to the highest bidder.

“There are other interests out there who I am sure would like to rent or buy the building, maybe keep it the way it is,” Thompson said. “But I’ve seen that building there for so long. I don’t want to see anything else there.”

The online community survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CommunitySurveySJFD9JLKR6N. All responses are confidential, according to the fire district.

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