Police & Fire

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Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Numerous acts of anti-Semitism in the past week have left Jewish community leaders concerned for the welfare of its congregates during one of the most joyous celebrations of the Jewish calendar.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

On Saturday, a man broke into a rabbi’s home in the town of Monsey in Rockland County where he assaulted the rabbi and those assembled there. Police said the assailant, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, allegedly stabbed five people gathered in the rabbi’s home, including the religious leader’s son. According to the Washington Post, one of those attacked remains in critical condition. Thomas has plead not guilty.

The North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station gathered together Sunday, Dec. 29 with members of the faith and local officials from the surrounding area to show strength in the face of the violence, lighting candles on a menorah in light of the attacks. Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the Jewish Center, spoke of the need for unity and forward thinking as they looked to “come to grips” with recent anti-Semitic attacks.

The rabbi said such ceremonies are both necessary and helpful for the Jewish community, finding a way to respond to such unnecessary and unprovoked violence. While he said he has seen consistent acts of anti-Semitism over the past several years, seeing several acts of hate over the course of Hanukkah was something new and distressing.

“It was a way to express hope — that we will prevail over violence and hate,” he said. “People of the Jewish faith has faced such attacks and harassment for centuries, but we have always been able to survive, to stay strong.”

Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Other recent events during the days of Hanukkah have made Jewish leaders concerned. On Dec. 23 a man allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs while assaulting a woman in Manhattan. On Dec. 26, another Brooklyn woman was harassed by a woman shouting other slurs towards her and her son. The next day, a woman slapped three Orthodox Jewish women in the face in Crown Heights, which is known for its Orthodox Jewish population.

Benson said around 75 people came to the ceremony Sunday night, and while many of them were from his congregation, more came from surrounding communities. Fellow clergy from neighboring churches such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook also came to show support.

Rev. Linda Anderson of the Unitarian fellowship said such shows of support from non-Jews are important so that all know that no one faith is standing alone in the face of violence. Earlier this year, after an attack on mosques in New Zealand, she and other members of the local Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association and Building Bridges in Brookhaven gathered at a mosque in Selden, forming a ring around the building to show support. Anderson is the president of the interfaith group.

“The idea that we have to keep doing this is discouraging,” she said, lamenting about the seemingly constant violent attacks on minority faiths around the world. “But we will keep it up, we will stand for fellow faiths in our community.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the ceremony and called it a “beautiful display of community unity.”

She said that after numerous incidents of anti-Semitism across the country, local centers have looked to review their own policies in protecting their congregation.

In terms of Suffolk County Police, she called them “proactive” in looking to stop such incidents happening locally.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

SCPD said in a statement they have stepped up patrols at and around synagogues and Jewish community centers.

Benson said he has found that both the SCPD and sheriff’s departments have been very proactive in their efforts to confront anti-Semitism. He said the local precinct often reaches out to his synagogue and offered added protection for the location after the violent attack Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) also condemned the attacks.
“Hanukkah 2019 in New York will be remembered for a sick amount of violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around New York City. From colleges to Congress to Hanukkah parties and synagogues, anti-Semitism is on the rise and on full display in many ugly forms,” he said in a statement. “The violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around NYC are being caused by raw hate, feckless leadership, a culture of acceptance, education and promotion of anti-Semitism, and lowering quality of life. All elected and community leaders need to step up to confront and crush this threat.”

Sound Beach firefighter Cheyenne Enlund shows dedication in her volunteer work despite trying times at home. Photo by Stephanie Handshaw

By Peggy Spellman Hoey

Family has always been important to firefighter Cheyenne Enlund, so it is no coincidence that when she joined the Sound Beach Fire Department’s Explorer program as a teenager, she soon found a new extended, adoptive family of brothers and sisters. It’s a family that she never let down despite trying times at home, friends and public officials say.

“Even with her father passing, she kept going and going, and she never quit,” said Chief of Department Michael Rosasco.

Enlund, a 24-year-old Sound Beach resident, has been credited by officials for continuing to take an active role, volunteering her time with the fire department all while juggling a full-time job at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, where she now works as a patient care technician. But what makes her stand out is that she showed dedication to her volunteerism during the illnesses and subsequent deaths from cancer of both her parents, first her mother, Linette, two years ago, and then her father, Patrick, just last year. It’s that dedication that earned her the department’s 2018 Firefighter of the Year award.

She’s very giving, always caring for other people — she puts others before herself, she’s an all-around amazing person.” 

Molly Searight

“She’s a beautiful person,” said Suffolk Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who nominated Enlund for The Village Beacon Record’s Person of the Year after learning of her story while attending the fire department’s award ceremony.

Normally, firefighter of the year is an honor reserved for a firefighter who makes a save during a working house fire. However, because the hamlet can be relatively quiet, the department in the past has also chosen individuals who go above and beyond the minimum requirement in their service, according to Rosasco.

“She was always very clearheaded,” he said. “She was always very cheerful, even though you know it was hurting her. She was always a good ray of sunshine for someone when you saw her.”

Enlund joined the fire department’s Explorer program in her early teens and worked her way up through the ranks to become a full-fledged firefighter, now serving as chief rescue truck driver. Other roles in the department have included organizing the department’s picnic, competing on the muster team, and advising junior firefighters in the Explorer program.

Friend Molly Searight, 19, first met Enlund five years ago when she trained under her guidance in the explorer program. There, Enlund served as a female lead, teaching young women the ins and outs of fire training and first aid, often offering even the tiniest pointers to help her inexperienced charges improve their first-responder skills.

Searight describes Enlund as “strong willed” and the type of person who “persists through everything” and “tries her hardest” at whatever tasks she faces.  

“She’s very giving, always caring for other people — she puts others before herself,” Searight said, adding, “She’s an all-around amazing person.”

Anker said she is most impressed by Enlund’s dedication and outreach in the community.

“I feel that she is so deserving of recognition, and I am sure that she does not want the recognition, but those [people] are the type who should be recognized — people who are helping people for the right reason,” she said.

 

Rob Bentivegna, center, helped build the Rocky Point EMS building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Rob Bentivegna, a former firefighter and general handyman for Rocky Point Fire District often goes unnoticed. 

Usually a cheerful and magnanimous guy, Bentivegna allows other people to sit in the limelight, but firefighters, according to fire district and department officials, would be at a huge loss if it weren’t for their go-to maintenance man. 

Rocky Point’s Rob Bentivegna was the driving force in reconstructing a historic building. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He’s got a work ethic you don’t see in a lot of people anymore — it’s something to see,” said RPFD fire commissioner Kirk Johnson. “Anything he does do, he doesn’t do the minimum. If there’s a job out there, Rob takes care of it, he’s right on top of everything.”

Bentivegna, a Shoreham resident, has gone far beyond the scope of what his job entails. When RPFD bought a section of property at the corner Hallock Landing and Rocky Point Landing roads, Bentivegna rolled up his sleeves to help reconfigure a new EMS vehicle garage out of what were two rundown buildings. Many thought the buildings were beyond repair. 

Bentivegna also set himself apart on another project: Repairing and revitalizing the old Parish Resource Center, a historical building that has been neglected for years. 

To hear the maintenance man speak of the building, one would think he designed and built it himself back when it was originally constructed in 1849. Bentivegna kept an eye on the details of everything from the molding in the building’s interior, to the hand-blown glass windows, which he stressed needed to remain intact. He built shutters, based off of old pictures, by hand. The constantly flooded basement was reconfigured into a space where volunteers could wash their equipment after a job, and the maintenance man has plans to turn it into a training space. What had once been derelict has been transformed into a useful community center. 

It was two years worth of work, and much of the effort he completed on his own time. 

Tony Gallino, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, said Rob goes far above and beyond, noting that he has saved the district and the taxpayers thousands of dollars by doing work they would otherwise have to contract out. Bentivegna is a perfectionist, he said, who will do anything for the department and its volunteer members. 

When the fire department company 2 needed to move out of their space into a neighboring yard during construction, Bentivegna was instrumental in getting the new space on Prince Road ready to receive all the department’s equipment, trucks and personnel. He even went in to collect pictures and other items at the company 2 house to make sure they were preserved, Gallino said.

Rob Bentivegna points to the windows that had been reinstalled in the old Lecture Room’s interior. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He doesn’t miss a day’s work, and he comes in on his own time, doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas day,” the board chairman said. 

Kristen D’Andrea, a Shoreham resident and spokesperson for Brookhaven town highways superintendent, said Bentivegna offers help to anybody who needs it. He had come by her house to offer landscaping support.

“We had a groundhog in our front yard we couldn’t get rid of,” she said. “He came over, set a trap and removed it. He wouldn’t take money. … He’s just a genuinely good guy.”

Bentivegna had been a contractor for more than 30 years and had joined the fire department as a volunteer around 15 years ago. Unfortunately, life had thrown him a curve ball. What coworkers and friends called an “illness” had left the Rocky Point volunteer in large amounts of pain. Johnson said the longtime firefighter was “crushed” to have to step down from active duty, but even as a paid employee he said the man cannot stop giving his time to make sure things are done well. The Shoreham 9/11 responders memorial had taken years of planning, but Bentivegna’s expertise in contracting and landscaping lent itself toward constructing both the wall of names and the fountain in the center of the grounds.

“For those few who know what he’s going through, actually being able to work and do what he gets to do every day gets him through it,” Johnson said.

Adam DeLumen, chief of Rocky Point Fire Department, has known Bentivegna for around 15 years. He said that Bentivegna has also renovated each company’s back rooms and created a training room at the Shoreham firehouse. He even helped with renovations to DeLumen’s own house several times. 

“Most people don’t know what they have with Rob,” DeLumen said. “He’s just one of those guys, he’ll do anything for anybody.” 

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. File photo

Jurors rendered the verdicts Dec. 17 for former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and the head of his corruption bureau Christopher McPartland.

On the charge of conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.” On the charge of obstruction of justice against Spota and McPartland: “Guilty.”

The case revealed local corruption and cover-ups that required the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. Some officials, who have issued formal statements, say they are thrilled with the outcome, including current Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

“As we learned, the very people charged with upholding the law were the ones who were found guilty of assisting James Burke in his attempt to get away with his crime,” Hart stated. “Instead of being leaders and standing up for justice, they did their best to manipulate the system and everyone who stood in their way.”

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police detective and an often outspoken critic of the department, said he feels vindicated.

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,” Trotta said. “Thanks to the great work of the United States Attorney’s Office and the diligence of the jury, justice will be served.”

“It is unfortunate for the honest and dedicated cops that these men thought they were above the law and could get away with anything,”

– Rob Trotta

Spota and McPartland were indicted in Oct. 2017 on federal charges for covering up the crimes of former police chief James Burke. In 2012, Burke, a St. James resident, was charged and convicted of assaulting Christopher Loeb, of Smithtown, who broke into Burke’s department-issued SUV that was parked in front of the former police chief’s home and stole a duffel bag allegedly containing a gun belt, ammunition, sex toys and pornography. Burke, according to prosecutors, beat Loeb inside the 4th Precinct station house in Hauppauge. After being sentenced to 46 months in prison, Burke was released Nov. 2018. He completed his sentence under house arrest in April 2019.

Both Hart and Trotta have suggested that related investigations continue.

“We have been monitoring this case closely and remain in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District,” Hart stated. “We are also in the process of reviewing all of the testimony and evidence presented at trial, and upon further review will take appropriate action if warranted.”

Trotta is particularly concerned about rooting out further corruption, an issue central to his 2019 reelection campaign.

“Unfortunately, this trial exposed that corruption continues in Suffolk County and hopefully the United States Attorney’s Office will continue its investigation into Suffolk’s widespread corruption problem,” Trotta stated. “It’s embarrassing that the DA, chief of corruption, chief of police, chair of the conservative party have all been arrested and found guilty in the past few years.”

However, Hart holds a more positive outlook.

“We want to assure members of the public that the current leadership of this department is committed to integrity, honesty and professionalism,” she stated. “I am continuously impressed by the work and level of commitment by our police officers and residents of this county should feel proud of their police department.

 

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File photo

By Monica Gleberman

Comsewogue district officials took extra precautions after a non-life-threatening statement required the removal of a high school student Monday morning.

At 11 a.m. Monday morning, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn sent out a robocall alerting the community there was an incident at the high school that required immediate attention.

“Many of you are at work, but I just want to share some information with you because I think you’ll be hearing about it,” she said. “We had a student at the high school who made a comment that we took very seriously, it concerned us.”

Although Quinn did not go into details about the comment or the student, she did say there was no damage done to the school and none of the students were in immediate danger.

Within minutes of the call, parents began posting on social media with concerns about what happened and asking for more details from the district. School board President John Swenning responded with a post online, “all is safe at the [high school]. A comment was taken seriously, and action was taken. There was no immediate threat to any students or staff.”

In a private message, when asked if the board of education would make an official comment, Swenning said all comments are taken as “true threats” and the district followed protocol which included getting the Suffolk County Police Department involved.

The SCPD confirmed the incident in a statement via email Monday afternoon, adding that the student involved in the investigation made the “statement” in question on Friday, December 13, which the district was made aware of Monday, December 16.

In the email, the SCPD wrote, “The statement could have been perceived as a threat. The student was taken for evaluation and an investigation determined there was never a threat to the students or the faculty.”

Swenning praised the district and the police for their help. “Kudos to [the] administration and SCPD for their quick response.”

At the end of the school day, the administrators put up an alert on the district’s website with an update from Quinn. The new information included that the school psychologist was called in to help with the student once the administrators were made aware of the incident. Additionally, there were no weapons discovered on school premises and “[to the] best to our knowledge, the student did not have access to any,” the alert stated. “The student will not be attending school until we are confident that they are not a threat. Furthermore, appropriate discipline is being taken. Please be assured that the safety and welfare of all of our students and staff is always our number one concern.”

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.

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Kit Gabrielsen

Voters have elected Kit Gabrielsen as a commissioner to the St. James Fire District for the single open seat on the five member board. He secured 390 votes.  Ryan Davis, who currently serves as fire chief, also ran for a seat on the commission.  He got 315 votes from the community.  Incumbent Bill Kearney received 115 votes. The election means the district will operate in the new year with a majority of commissioners in support of maintaining operations at the historic St. James firehouse, one of two firehouses in St. James.

Setauket Fire Department Headquarters. File photo.
Billy Williams will be the next Setauket Fire Comissioner. Photo provided by Billy Williams

Changes are coming to the Setauket Fire District board.

On Dec. 10, insurance agent and volunteer firefighter Billy Williams unseated incumbent Kevin Yoos for the commissioner seat, 479-219.

During his campaign, Williams addressed financial matters and the need to keep the department volunteer based. The newly elected fire commissioner and others have said morale in the department has dipped after last year’s decision to change paid fire coordinators to paid firefighter positions. Last year the district approved three salaried firefighters, along with one more this year.

Williams said it felt all the hard work of campaigning was worth it when he saw the voter turnout. Involved in the Kiwanis Club and the local chamber of commerce, he added he felt many voted who didn’t vote in the past.

He said working on the morale in the department is at the forefront of his mind.

“It had a big bump yesterday,” he said. “I got a 150 to 200 texts from department members and other people.”

Williams said once he takes his seat, he’ll look at everything, especially when it comes to financial matters, and “do what’s right by the taxpayer.”

The new commissioner will take his seat Jan. 1, 2020, and will serve a five-year term.

 

Terryville Fire Department's Main Fire House
Captain James Guma of Company 1. Provided photo from James Guma.

Terryville Fire District election results are in, and Captain James Guma of Company 1 has been elected to a five-year term as commissioner.

Guma won over his opponent, department volunteer member Daniel Gruoso, with a total of 275 ballots, counting both numbers at the polls and absentee ballots, according to District Clerk Frank Triolo. Gruoso garnered a total of 200 votes both in-person and absentee, but he also gained 21 affidavit votes. Guma received four.

“I would just like to thank all my supporters, and I’m looking forward to a great five years,” Guma said. He also thanked his opponent for his continued service to the community as a member of the department.

Gruoso also thanked his opponent for a good race, adding “Jim will do a good job.”

 

Centereach Fire Department file photo

Candidates for fire commissioners in both the Centereach and Selden fire districts were on hand at the Nov. 20 Centereach Civic Association meeting, which was held in conjunction with the Selden Civic Association at the Selden firehouse, to introduce themselves to residents. On Dec. 10, residents will be able to vote for one fire commissioner in each district for a five-year term.

Centereach Fire District 

Thomas Doyle

Incumbent Thomas Doyle

Thomas Doyle is seeking reelection in this year’s election. Doyle has also been the chairman of the board of fire commissioners for the past three years.

He said highlights of his time as commissioner include helping to improve the district’s bond rating from A1 to AAA, being fiscally responsible and staying within budget each year.

Doyle has been a Lake Grove resident since 2003 and is committed to protecting and being accountable to the people of the Centereach and Lake Grove communities.

Challenger Cathy Padro

Cathy Padro

Cathy Padro said she is running for the fire commissioner position to make the fire district more responsive to community residents and fire department members alike.

A longtime resident of Centereach and Lake Grove, she has been a member of the fire department for five years. She is EMT certified, serves as a member of the training staff and is an adviser to the department’s junior company.

Padro is active in the community, having served as a school PTA member and as a religion teacher at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary R.C. Church for over 10 years.

She has championed the Teddy Bear Clinic sponsored by the district and held at local schools. If elected, Padro is committed to restoring this program, which was recently scaled back. She believes training for members should be expanded and the ongoing building renovation project completed in a transparent and fiscally responsible manner.

Selden Fire District 

Incumbent Robert McConville

Robert McConville

Robert McConville has served as fire commissioner for the past 10 years and has been the chairman of the board for the past eight. He is seeking another five-year term.

McConville has been a 37-year member of the Selden Fire Department and a 52-year member of the Suffolk County Volunteer Fire Service.

McConville said everything the board of fire commissioners does is a group effort. He touted the “great inroads” the department has made in the last five years. Highlights include overhauling the department’s existing fleet, continuing to have some of the best trained firefighters and overseeing one of the busiest volunteer firefighter departments in the state.

Challenger William Xikis

William Xikis

Looking to unseat McConville for the fire commissioner position, William Xikis has been a Selden native for over 45 years and has deep roots in the community. He has been a 34-year member of the Selden Fire Department and is an active member of the fire district.

Xikis served as the chief of the Selden Fire Department in 2005, 2006, 2017
and 2018.

He said that one of his goals during his tenure as chief of the department was to have better communication with the board of fire commissioners.

In the role of commissioner, he will make sure tax dollars are spent judicially and ensure they continue to have a strong support system.

Polling Locations

Centereach

Centereach residents can vote at the fire district headquarters located at 9 South Washington Ave. Dec. 10. Polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m.

Selden

Selden residents will vote at the main firehouse on Woodmere Place from 3 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10.

There will also be a resolution where residents will be asked to vote on the purchase of an aerial/ladder truck at an estimated maximum cost of $1,600,000, authorizing the financing by an installment purchase contract for the purchase price over a maximum five-year term of level payments at an interest rate of 3.12 percent.