Police & Fire

St. James fire officials plan to move ahead with public referendum as planned

St. James Route 25A firehouse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James Fire District’s Board of Fire Commissioners has been professionally advised not to move forward with the June 19 public referendum to sell the iconic Route 25A firehouse at this time.

The board of fire commissioners publicly released the 71-page “Final Report Review of Fire Rescue Stations and Service Capabilities” June 15. The study was conducted by third-party RFG Fire Rescue Consulting, dated May 28, 2018 just days before the scheduled June 19 vote. The two-part study was aimed at evaluating several concerns of the community including the sale of the Route 25A firehouse, a functional evaluation of both fire stations capacity and whether the district’s proposal to consolidate services would affect emergency response times.

The top recommendation of Ron Graner, a public safety consultant with RFG Fire Rescue Consulting who prepared the report, strongly advises the district against moving forward with the June 19 referendum to sell the building to the St. James Fire Department – a 501(c)(3) organization of the volunteers who act as firefighters and emergency rescue services.

“It is my professional opinion and strong specific recommendation that the fire commission should take no specific action to conduct a public referendum to sell this property at this time,” reads page 10 of the study.

Graner strongly recommended the fire district should assemble a strategic planning committee made up of community members, emergency responders, fire department and fire district members to weigh in on the future of the building and the fire district. In addition, the consultant suggested the Route 25A firehouse should be made a community landmark, no matter who owns it in the future, and should seek status as a National Historic structure.

The St. James Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners released a statement addressing why it had not released the initial study up until this point.

“While it is our goal to be transparent with the community, we have not released the initial draft until this point due to concerns over methodology used and validity of the information provided within,” reads a statement from the fire commissioners. “We have repeatedly asked to meet in person with the consultant to review our concerns and seek clarification on some of the recommendations; as of this date however, we have not been granted a meeting.”

As such, the fire district officials said the study and its findings will not be adopted until questions are answered and clarification is obtained from RFG Fire Rescue Consulting.  The June 19 referendum will move forward as scheduled for 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue substation, located at 221 Jefferson Avenue, according to district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

St. James Volunteer Fire Department issued a public statement via Facebook urging residents to vote yes to approve the sale of the firehouse while promising to protect its future.

“We will be closely engaging with our legal team in the coming weeks and months to develop a framework that would bind the property to the corporate constitution,” reads the fire department’s June 15 Facebook statement. “A change of this nature would look to legally ensure that as long as the department is in existence the main firehouse will be permanently paired with the department.”

Click here to download and read the full 71-page report by RFG Fire Rescue Consulting.  Keep an eye on TBR News Media for more to come on this breaking news.

Editor’s note: This post was updated 3:05 p.m. June 15 with a statement from St. James Fire Department. 

St. James Route 25A firehouse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents are planning a rally against the June 19 referendum on the sale of the Route 25A firehouse, feeling they have too many questions left unanswered.

Troy Rosasco, founder of the community organization Citizens for a Safer St. James, is working with others to encourage voters to say no to the sale of the landmark Route 25A firehouse proposed by the St. James Fire District. A group of concerned citizens is planning to gather at 10 a.m. June 16 on the grassy median at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A.

“I would like to see the main firehouse be owned and retained by the community and by the taxpayers,” Rosasco said. His Facebook following has grown to nearly 400 concerned residents. “We have more control over the future of that building if the entire community owns it, rather than selling it to a group of only 100 firefighters.”

We have more control over the future of that building if the entire community owns it, rather than selling it to a group of only 100 firefighters.”
 – Troy Rosasco

On June 19, the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use — will ask community residents to approve a sale of the Route 25A firehouse for $500,000 back to St. James Fire Department, a nonprofit organization representing volunteers for fire and emergency response services.

Rosasco, a practicing attorney, said he feels it’s unfair to the taxpayers that the sale price is set at $500,000; the building is listed on the tax rolls as being valued at $1.5 million. He cites New York State Consolidated Town Law Section 176, Chapter 23, which governs the sale of excess equipment and property by fire districts, claiming the board of commissioners has a fiscal obligation to the residents to sell the building for as much as possible.

Fire Commissioner Ed Springer has said the sale is legal due to a clause in 2013 contract of sale for the firehouse, which switched ownership from the fire department to the district, was granted the state’s approval. The clause allegedly grants the volunteer firemen organization first rights to purchase the building back, if and when it went up for sale, at the same price paid.

“Even if this referendum passes, anyone in the district can go to court and challenge the sale of that firehouse because it was not sold in the taxpayers’ best interest,” Rosasco said.

The St. James resident won a New York State Supreme Court case against the district earlier this month. A state judge ordered the fire district to provide Rosasco with a copy of the 2013 contract of sale, emails between the fire commissioners before and after the failed September 2017 capital bond vote and other documents he requested back in December 2017 under the Freedom of Information Act.

St. James Fire Department has sponsored signs urging residents to “Vote Yes” June 19. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I wanted to see what their true positions are, their desires of what to do with the firehouse in the future,” Rosasco said June 12. “To date, I still don’t have those emails.”

The St. James resident, the fire district and their attorneys were schedule to appear in court June 13. The fire district did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the court case and the outcome was not available by press time.

St. James Volunteer Fire Department is actively pushing for approval of the June 19 referendum both on its Facebook page and by posting lawn signs throughout the town.

“We want the property back,” Glen Itzkowitz, chairman of the board of the St. James Fire Department, said in January. “We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”

But St. James and Head of the Harbor residents, who contract their fire rescue services through the fire district, say the legality of the vote is not the only thing raising questions. The fire department publicly stated at a May 30 community forum the board is considering consolidating all fire rescue services out of the Jefferson Avenue substation in the future. The potential change has raised questions about the impact on response times as the Route 25A firehouse and Jefferson Avenue substation are on opposite sides of the Long Island Rail Road tracks that bisect the town.

“We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”
– Glen Itzkowitz

This spring, the fire commissioners hired a third-party consultant RFG Fire Rescue Consulting to conduct a study on response times of both fire houses to different parts of the hamlet. While an initial draft
report of the findings was in the board of fire commissioners’ hands by May 30, Springer
said the fire district would release the report only once it is reviewed by the district and consultant.

TBR News Media immediately verbally requested a copy of the draft report after the May 30 community meeting from Springer and was denied. A formal written FOIA request was submitted to the fire district last week by TBR News Media, asking for a copy of the study to be released, and the request was not fulfilled by press time.

“I think they are hiding something that will hurt their position on the June 19 referendum,” Rosasco said. “It’s absolutely outrageous that they are asking us to vote on the sale of the firehouse without having the safety study done and released to the public.”

Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard first voiced his concerns about the safety of his residents if the Route 25A firehouse were to be sold and then shutdown, no longer serving as an active station, at a January community meeting. Since then, the village has officially requested the fire district provide it with a detailed proposal identifying where equipment will be located and anticipated response times to the village.

They haven’t figured it out or they are not providing the information to the residents of St. James.”
– Douglas Dahlgard

“We have not gotten the answers yet, but they say its pending,” Dahlgard said. “I assume we will be getting it shortly.”

The mayor said residents of Head of the Harbor are not eligible to vote in the June 19 referendum.

Both Rosasco and Dahlgard said the fire district has not been forthcoming in providing enough detailed information on its plans after the June 19 referendum.

“They haven’t figured it out or they are not providing the information to the residents of St. James,” the mayor said. “It’s rather strange in my view.”

St. James Fire District officials said publicly if the sale is approved, it will consider leasing space in the Route 25A firehouse from the department at a possible rate of $20,000 per year to hold events and meetings. If the sale is approved by the referendum, the volunteer fire department will still have to officially vote on whether to purchase the building.

The referendum will be held June 19 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue substation on 221 Jefferson Ave.

A free alcohol testing kit comes with one urination cup and test strip. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff's Office

A new Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department program is looking to keep kids safe this prom and graduation season, while creating a way for parents to more easily open a dialogue with kids about underage drinking and drugs.

“We just want everyone to be prepared,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “It’s a celebratory moment for people graduating high school and moving on, and they feel a little empowered.”

On May 22 the sheriff’s office announced it is passing out free alcohol and drug testing kits.

“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”

— Janene Gentile

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes. In Suffolk County, the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes are driving while ability impaired by alcohol or dugs and reckless or distracted driving.

The test kits include standard urine test that contains a single cup and stick that changes color depending on the presence of alcohol.

“We want parents to ask tough questions and [have] tough discussions early on so that they don’t get the knock on the door by a police officer telling them that their child is in the hospital or telling them that their child was driving while intoxicated,” Toulon said. “We would rather let them take care of their children so that law enforcement does not [have to] get involved.”

The North Shore Youth Council already offers these kits. Executive Director Janene Gentile said she doesn’t see the kits as a punitive measure, but as a way for parents to more easily talk about the topic with their children.

“Drinking is cultural in our society, but it’s an adult choice and not a young person’s choice,” she said.
“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”

Local schools have long tried to curb drug and alcohol use at prom while still trying to ensure graduating classes celebrate the final days before graduation.

Frank Pugliese said in his first year as principal of Shoreham-Wading River High School, he hopes his students can enjoy prom while staying safe.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“We strongly advise all students to always make appropriate decisions,” Pugliese said in an email. “With that being said, we have great students. The vast majority make smart choices regardless of the policies in place, and we trust that they will continue to do so on prom night.”

Smithtown High School West participates in the county District Attorney’s Office new Choices and Consequences program that shows the dangers of reckless and drunk driving. Members of the DA’s office will be in the high school June 18.

In a letter to students, Smithtown West High School Principal John Coady said anyone caught drinking during prom will be suspended and kicked out. Prom tickets will not be refunded, and the student may be barred from the graduation ceremony.

Fifty alcohol and 25 drug testing kits were sent out to numerous schools to kick off the program. The kits are also available free at each Suffolk County legislator’s office and will remain offered through the North Shore Youth Council.

Each alcohol testing kit costs .74 cents while drug testing kits are $1.50. The $5,000 program is being paid for with asset forfeiture funds.

“I would like for all of them to enjoy the moment,” Toulon said of seniors attending prom and graduation. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”

Graphic by TBR News Media

Suffolk County’s police department has new numbers to get excited about.

Despite being less than halfway through the year, the police department and medical examiner’s office report the county is on trend to see a nearly 100-person decrease in opioid-related deaths in 2018, compared to the last two.

Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante and Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan confirmed at the May 31 Suffolk County Legislature’s health committee meeting that if numbers remain low through June and July, Suffolk might see overdose deaths drop to 2015 levels — 260 total — compared to 2016 and 2017, where there were 362 and 359, respectively.

“It feels like we’re making headway,” Gigante said. “Like we’re getting somewhere.”

The total number of opioid deaths for this year is 120 as of May 1, which includes 78 cases still pending, in which the medical examiner could not yet attribute the overdose to causing the victim’s death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 64,000 people nationwide died from drug overdoses in 2016. Caplan said Suffolk mirrors the national statistic that approximately 80 percent of all drug overdoses are caused by opioids.

Gigante attributed the decrease to large-scale drug busts, like the arrest of six people involved in a Brookhaven-based drug ring in Middle Island in March.

In the last few years the number of overdoses involving prescription drugs has decreased, according to Caplan, while those involving illegal and nonprescription substances have increased.

“[2011] was the peak of where prescription medications like oxycodone were our biggest problem,” the medical examiner said. “We saw the trend going away from prescription opioids and to semisynthetic opioids like heroin and fentanyl.”

Members of the health committee said the trend down is uplifting.

“We’re amazed,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said. “These numbers are nearly 10-fold less than previous years.”

Gigante also spoke during the meeting about the department’s High Intensity Drug Tracking Area system, which maps overdose detections in real time for police officers out in the field. SCPD members can report the location, time and other details of an overdose, which is used to determine where to concentrate resources.

The police department used the system to map 13 opioid overdoses Memorial Day weekend, three of which were fatal. This is compared to last year’s Memorial Day weekend where nine of 40 reports resulted in a fatality.

The numbers reflected in the statistics do not account for people who drive themselves to hospitals, but Gigante said he hopes to get medical institutions involved in reporting those numbers too.

“If we can override June and July then we will really start to see the ratio decrease,” Gigante said. “I’m cautiously optimistic we can turn that corner.”

File photo

Suffolk County police arrested a woman for driving with a suspended and revoked driver’s license after stopping her for traffic violations in Huntington June 6.

Dawn Taddeo. Photo from SCPD

Dawn Taddeo was operating a 1996 Buick Regal on Pulaski Road without a registration sticker displayed on her windshield. A 2nd Precinct patrol officer initiated a traffic stop. A check on Taddeo’s driver’s license showed it had been suspended 89 times. It was also determined that Taddeo’s vehicle was unregistered and was being operated with improper or “switched” license plates.

Taddeo, 49, of Huntington Station, was arrested and charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Taddeo was also issued several summonses for vehicle and traffic law violations.  The vehicle was impounded.

Taddeo is being held overnight at the4th Precinct and is scheduled to be arraigned June 7 at First District Court in Central Islip. Additional details on her arraignment was not available

Jovani Ligurgo, on left, who was reported missing by his mother, was last seen with his father John Ligurgo III, on right. Photos from SCPD

Jovani Ligurgo’s mother dropped off her 2-year-old boy at his father’s residence on Brettonwoods Drive in Coram at around 7 a.m. on June 5. When the child, who lives with his mother in Smithtown, was not returned to her at a predetermined time, 3:30 to 4 p.m., she called police. Meanwhile, officers responded to a call of a house fire at approximately 3:35 p.m. where the father, John Ligurgo III, 43, lived. The residence was unoccupied.

Sixth Squad detectives believed the child was with his father, who might have fled the state in a black Jeep Grand Cherokee, New York license plate GAV 4699, with Ligurgo III possibly in possession of a hunting rifle.

A similar vehicle bearing New York license plate GAV 4699 was found June 6 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, with two deceased occupants who are believed to be the pair. A positive identification is pending.

Port Jefferson code Chief Wally Tomaszewski. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

A Port Jefferson Village fixture for more than 35 years is saying goodbye to his role in the community.

Code Enforcement Chief Wally Tomaszewski is retiring, according to an announcement by Mayor Margot Garant during a public Village Board meeting June 4.

“Chief Tomaszewski came in and he signed a retirement letter today with us,” Garant said. “He is going to be retiring, receiving his compensation for the month of June, and we will be searching for a new chief of the bureau. There’s a lot of change in the department in terms of technology, things that have to happen, and chief, we wish him well. We want to recognize him and retire him in this community for the public service he has provided for us for 35 years. And we mean that sincerely.”

Garant made the announcement when asked by a resident what was going on, as rumors had begun swirling on social media over the weekend about Tomaszewski’s job status and the story behind the departure.

Tomaszewski did not respond to a request for comment.

Community members packed Village Hall for the June meeting to discuss a host of issues, but the larger than normal turnout was likely largely a reflection on rumors about the chief.

“We spoke about this Friday, we shook hands, he came in today and signed his letter,” Garant said.

Several attendees spoke in support of Tomaszewski and asked the board to reconsider accepting the letter.

“I moved here about 50 years ago, and the reason we did was because this was a personal village,” resident Naomi Solo said. “It was a special village, and I think the person that really epitomizes this, besides yourself, was Wally. The loss of Wally is devastating.”

The chief was known for being on call for residents, be it to address noise complaints in the middle of the night or assist the Suffolk County Police Department in certain cases.

“I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a replacement that’s equivalent to him,” resident Marge McCuen said.

Deputy Code Chief Fred Leute will serve as the acting chief, according to Garant.

Dispatcher Gerard Boucher used a computer-aided Q&A program at his workstation to help a Stony Brook couple deliver their baby. Photo from the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services

By Kyle Barr

A new resident arrived in Stony Brook with a little help from a fire and rescue dispatcher.

A couple were surprised May 30 when the wife went into labor while still over the phone with emergency dispatch, but the man behind the phone helped the family complete the birth with little to no complications.

“You could hear her going through contractions. She definitely sounded like she was in discomfort.”

— Gerard Boucher

Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services dispatcher Gerard Boucher heard about other dispatchers in the office having to help deliver a baby over the phone, but he had never had to do it himself. Just an hour into his shift at 7:54 a.m. May 30, Boucher found he didn’t have a choice but to keep calm and go through the steps he learned both with his experience as a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician and his 10 years working for dispatch.

“I went through the usual spiel, the name, information, call-back number and the nature of the call, but then he stated his wife was 39 weeks pregnant and her water had broken,” said Boucher, a Bayshore resident. “I’ve had some close deliveries, but I’ve never actually delivered over the phone.”

In addition to his experience, Boucher relied on the dispatchers’ computer-aided Q&A program to understand what was happening and what to do.

“It involved prepping the mother, getting her the necessary tools — a dry blanket to wrap the baby in, a shoelace or a piece of string to tie off and cut the umbilical cord,” Boucher said. “We’re also instructed to have them get a safety pin if the amniotic sack is still intact. Another part of it is properly positioning the mother and talking her through the contractions. Just trying to have the person on the other end of the phone tell me what’s happening, asking him is she crowning, is she out, partially out, and most importantly if the babies coming out head first.”

The birth procedure went smoothly, and Boucher said that everyone involved kept level heads.

“You go from having one patient to two patients very quickly. Just to have the baby cry immediately was a big sigh of relief.”

— Gerard Boucher

“You could hear her going through contractions,” he said. “She definitely sounded like she was in discomfort. I do have to commend the two of them. I was surprised how calm they were throughout the entire experience. I was shocked at that, but it definitely lowered the stress level on our end.”

Finally, at 8:07 a.m., a little baby girl was born. She was breathing, and seconds after that, Boucher heard the baby start to cry.

“I was relieved, he said. “You go from having one patient to two patients very quickly. Just to have the baby cry immediately was a big sigh of relief.”

Setauket Fire Department emergency services arrived shortly afterwards and brought the family to Stony Brook Hospital, according to a press release.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) commended Boucher in a statement.

“The highly trained professionals that make up our Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services are exceptional public servants and dispatcher Boucher is a perfect example of that,” Bellone (D) said. “These everyday heroes continuously face some of the most stressful and difficult situations imaginable, and I applaud them for their continued work and service to the residents of Suffolk County.”

The Stony Brook couple declined to be interview and did not wish for their names to be disclosed, according to a representative of the county emergency services department.

John "Johnny Boy" Ambrosio admits to being a member of the Gambino family

Inside the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Photo from Facebook

A Huntington man pled guilty Thursday to participating in a racketeering conspiracy, by admitting his role as an acting captain for the infamous Gambino organized-crime family.

John Ambrosio, 75, was the last of seven associates of La Cosa Nostra, as the crime family is also called, to plead guilty May 31 in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York to acts including loansharking and running an illegal gambling business, according to prosecutors.

Ambrosio, known as “Johnny Boy,” and his six co-conspirators — including Anthony Rodolico, 46, of Huntington — were arrested by federal law enforcement officials Dec. 12, 2017. Earlier that day, federal officers who executed search warrants at various locations, including a Nassau County storage facility, found and recovered gambling and loansharking records, electronic gaming machines, narcotics and related paraphernalia and numerous firearms, including an AR-15, a .38 caliber revolver and a sawed-off shotgun, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Law enforcement officials also found letters addressed to Ambrosio from the Bonanno family boss Michael “The Nose” Mancuso and former Gambino family boss John Gotti.

Prosecutors said they believe Ambrosio and his associates engaged in a racketeering conspiracy from January 2014 to December 2017. In entering his guilty plea, Ambrosio admitted to participating in the Gambino family’s activities by extorting a loan from one victim and supervising a gambling business that involved poker games, electronic gaming machines and sports betting, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Under the terms of his plea deal, he will forfeit $100,000, including $66,116 in cash that was seized from his Huntington home at the time of his arrest.

When Ambrosio and Rodolico are sentenced, they each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. The federal case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Artie McConnell.

File photo

Suffolk County police arrested a Coram teen May 30 for allegedly stabbing his mother to death.

During an altercation Wednesday morning, Jacob Beechem stabbed his mother, Donette Beechem, inside their residence at approximately 7:15 a.m. Jacob Beechem was injured as he fell out of a window attempting to flee the home.

Donette Beechem, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene by a member of the office of the Suffolk County medical examiner. Jacob Beechem, 18, was admitted to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Jacob Beechem was charged with second-degree murder and will be arraigned at a later date.

Attorney information for Beechem was not immediately available.