Police & Fire

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.

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.

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.

Michael O’Brien’s mug shot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested a man who allegedly robbed a Rocky Point bank April 17.

Michael O’Brien entered BNB Bank, located at 75 Route 25A, at approximately 3:25 p.m. April 17, allegedly approached a teller and presented a note demanding cash. The teller complied and the robber fled on foot westbound.

Following an investigation, major case unit detectives located and arrested O’Brien on Glenwood Drive in Sound Beach at 11:10 p.m.

O’Brien, 29, of Sound Beach, was charged with third-degree robbery.

He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct and was scheduled to be arraigned at 1st District Court in Central Islip on April 18.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police 4th Precinct crime section officers are investigating an incident during which a man allegedly asked a juvenile to expose himself.

A 16-year-old boy was jogging in Lake Grove April 13 at around 10 a.m. when a man driving a white refrigerated box truck started following the boy and allegedly asked him to expose himself. The teen refused and the driver left.

The man was described as white, had read hair and in his mid-30s. He was missing teeth. The truck had a flower logo on the cab doors.

Anyone with information is asked to call 4th Precinct crime section at 631-854-8426 or call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

File photo

Suffolk County police 4th squad detectives are investigating a two-vehicle crash that killed a man in Commack April 17.

A man was driving a 2010 Toyota Corolla westbound on Vanderbilt Motor Parkway when his vehicle crossed into the eastbound lane and struck a 2015 Volkswagen near Shinbone Lane at approximately 12:50 p.m. The man was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the office of the Suffolk County medical examiner. The driver of the Volkswagen, Lisa Campanella, 49, of Ronkonkoma, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where she was treated for serious injuries.

Both drivers were alone in their vehicles. Police are not releasing the victim’s name pending notification of next of kin.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call the 4th squad at 631-854-8452.

One Stop Deli Food Market on Pulaski Road in East Northport. Photo from Google Maps

Suffolk County police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating an armed robbery that occurred in the rear parking lot of an East Northport convenience store April 15.

A man with a gun allegedly approached a male employee of the One Stop Deli Food Market, located at 246 Pulaski Road, as the employee walked to the rear of the business to dispose of garbage at approximately 8:58 p.m. The man allegedly pointed a gun at the employee and demanded money. The employee complied and gave the man his wallet. The robber took the wallet and fled the scene on foot. No one was injured during this incident.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this robbery to call the 2nd Squad detectives at 631-854-8252.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police have arrested five people after conducting inspections within the 4th Precinct April 14.

In response to recent complaints throughout the 4th Precinct, Crime Section officers conducted investigations into the sale of e-liquid nicotine and alcohol to minors at 17 businesses, utilizing underage agents.

The following individuals were arrested and issued Field Appearance Tickets:

  • Shah Asif, 44, of Bay Shore, at Shell gas station at 642 Motor Parkway in Brentwood was charged with one count of second-degree unlawfully dealing.
  • James Flone, 54, of Smithtown, at The Smoke Shop at 403 Smithtown Blvd. in Nesconset was charged with one count of second-degree unlawfully dealing and one count of first-degree unlawfully dealing.
  • Mohammes Khan, of Flushing, Queens, 58 , at Aroma Smoke Shop at 6 East Main Street in Smithtown, was charged with two counts of second-degree unlawfully dealing.
  • Wenwen Liu, 33, of East Meadow, at Smithtown Wines and Spirits at 67 Route 111 in Smithtown, was charged with two counts of first-degree unlawfully dealing.
  • Giovanni Galeano, 26, of Central Islip, at Krypton Smoke Shop at 260 Smithtown Blvd. in Nesconset was charged with two counts of second-degree unlawfully dealing.

The following businesses complied and refused the sale of e-liquid nicotine and/or alcohol to minors:

  • 7-Eleven at 2045 Jericho Turnpike in Commack
  • 7-Eleven at 362 Veterans Highway in Commerce
  • BP gas station at 2840 Pond Road in Ronkonkoma
  • BP gas station at 402 Rosevale Ave. in Ronkonkoma
  • Bullseye Wholesale Beverage at 395A Middle Country Road in Smithtown
  • Citgo Mini Mart at 440 Hawkins Ave. in Ronkonkoma
  • Cloud Vape and Smoke at 55 NY-111 in Smithtown
  • One Stop Deli Inc. at 408 Rosevale Ave. in Ronkonkoma
  • Exxon at 323 Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown
  • Shell gas station at 444 Commack Road in Commack
  • Shell gas station at 560 Middle Country Road in Smithtown
  • Suffolk Vape & Smoke at 165A Terry Road in Nesconset

All defendants are scheduled for arraignment June 18 at First District Court in Central Islip.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Alex Petroski

Suffolk County is off to a safer start in 2018.

Graphic by TBR News Media

Violent crime, drug overdoses and fatal motor vehicle crashes are all trending in the right direction in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same time period last year, according to data announced April 4 by then Suffolk County Police Department Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron. Geraldine Hart, the county’s first female police commissioner, took the helm and officially began her tenure, according to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

Homicides, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined, dropped almost 19 percent when comparing the first three months of 2018 to the same period in 2017, according to the department. During the first quarter of 2017, 17 people were injured or killed by gunfire in Suffolk County. Nine people have been injured or killed by gunfire in 2018 so far, representing a 47 percent decrease.

Drug overdoses during that time period have also dropped 42 percent, according to SCPD, citing a 25 percent increase in narcotics-related search warrants so far in 2018. During those searches, detectives arrested 155 people and seized 43 guns, police said. In 2018, 871 grams of heroin have been seized in Suffolk County and 3,732 grams of cocaine, representing 189 percent and 724 percent increases respectively compared to January through March 2017.

Graphic by TBR News Media

“The statistics in the first quarter of 2018 show impressive results which are reflective of the hard work done by the men and women of this department,” Cameron said, adding that the encouraging statistics also came despite a 17 percent reduction in overtime costs.

Bellone was complimentary of the police department in light of the announcement of the statistics.

“Once again, the hard work of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department has led to the lowest levels of crime in recorded history,” he said in a statement. “Not only does this reaffirm that our crime-fighting strategies are working, we are doing this in the most cost-effective way possible.”

Graphic by TBR News Media

Despite the positive countywide signs related to violent crimes, the 6th Precinct is not yet enjoying such a trend in 2018. This year to date, 36 violent crimes have occurred, compared to 31 in 2017’s first quarter. Specifically, more aggravated assaults and robberies have been committed in 2018 than in 2017.

Cameron also touted a 25 percent first quarter decrease in fatal motor vehicle crashes and an 11 percent reduction in crashes resulting in injuries.

“These results reflect the department’s increased focus on traffic enforcement, the incorporation of an effective intelligence-driven model to traffic enforcement and the department’s new Alarm Management Program, which has freed up patrol time to allow for increased enforcement,” a press release from the department said.

Juan Lopez of Huntington Station was convicted of using the threat of violence to recruit people into the gang MS-13. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s office

A Huntington Station man has been found guilty of being an MS-13 gang member who used the threat of violence in attempt to recruit new members.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced April 9 that Juan Lopez, 32, was convicted by a jury of first-degree attempted coercion, a felony. Lopez faces a maximum of four years in jail.

“The victims did not join; they did the right thing,” Sini said. “That’s why it’s critical that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is here to protect the victims of not only gang violence, but also of gang intimidation.”

On April 16, 2017, Lopez was approached by two young men at the soccer fields of Manor Field Park in Huntington Station at approximately 1 p.m. in attempts to recruit them to MS-13, according to the district attorney. This occured less than five days after the murder of four young men near a park in Central Islip by alleged gang members.

Tattoos denoting Juan Lopez’s connection to the gang MS-13, according to District Attorney Tim Sini. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s office

“When the boys resisted, this defendant stated to them in unequivocal terms, ‘this is how you end up dead in the park,’” Sini said. “My message to Mr. Lopez is: That’s how you end up in jail in Suffolk County.”

Lopez was arrested by Suffolk County Police Department the following day, April 17, 2017.

The case was prosecuted by the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau’s Gang Unit. The Gang Unit was launched in January 2018 by the newly-elected district attorney to focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by gang members, such as members of MS-13.

Sini said prosecutors’s evidence against Lopez at trial included witness statements in addition to his own tattoos. Lopez has a “1” tattoed on his right arm near his shoulder with a matching “3” tattooed on his left arm near the shoulder joint. In addition, he had a skull with two horns tattooed lower on his left arm, forming the letter “M” when viewed upside down. The district attorney said these tattoes are symbolic of membership in the MS-13 gang.

“We will spare no resources, we will spare no effort to eradicate MS-13 from our communities,”he said.