Police & Fire

Stony Brook resident Rocco Pesola has been reported missing after leaving a family member's house in St. James Oct. 15. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
UPDATE: Rocco Pesola has been found unharmed
The original Silver Alert issued for Rocco Pesola:
The Suffolk County Police Department has issued a Silver Alert for a missing Stony Brook man who suffers from dementia.
Rocco Pesola, 89, of 39 Knolls Drive, was last seen leaving a family member’s home in St. James to return to his residence Oct. 15 at approximately 1 p.m. Pesola is white, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds with brown eyes, an olive complexion and white hair. He was driving a 2015 Nissan Rogue with New York license plate BVY 6910. He was wearing a blue vest over a flannel shirt with khaki pants and sneakers.
Detectives are asking anyone with information on Pesola’s location to call 911 or the sixth squad at 631-854-8652.
 

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

Daniel Justino’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police have arrested a man in connection with a stabbing of two men that occurred on Oct. 4 in Port Jefferson Station.

A man was walking on Jayne Boulevard at approximately 9 p.m. when the driver of a passing Jeep slowed down and yelled at him. The man ran to a nearby friend’s house as the Jeep followed. The driver of the Jeep and a passenger exited the vehicle and attacked him. Two male occupants of the house heard the commotion and came to the man’s aid. During the altercation, the two men who came to his aid suffered stab wounds. The man being chased was not injured. The suspects fled in the Jeep.

The victims were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. One man was treated and released, and the other victim remains in the Intensive Care Unit following surgery.

After an investigation, 6th Squad detectives charged Daniel Jusino, 20, of Centereach, with first-degree and second-degree assault. He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct for arraignment this morning, Oct. 6, at First District Court in Central Islip. The investigation is ongoing.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a burglary at an occupied Commack home that occurred early this morning.

Two men entered a home on Orchard Lane at 2:12 a.m. and demanded money from the residents. One of the burglars struck a 27-year-old woman in the head with a gun and then struggled with the woman’s 54-year-old father. During the struggle between the two men, the homeowner’s Rottweiler ran into the room and the burglars fled with no proceeds.

The woman refused medical attention and the man was not injured.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this incident to call the 4th Squad at 631-854-8452or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

Eugene Coyne’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police Major Case Unit detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian in Fort Salonga Sept. 29.

Nicholas Pineda-Maldonado, 58, was operating a stand-behind lawn mower on Sunken Meadow Road in the roadway when he was struck by a 2008 Saturn that was traveling southbound on Sunken Meadow Road near Trescott Path at approximately 4:30 p.m.

Pineda-Maldonado was transported to Saint Catherine of Sienna Medical Center in Smithtown for treatment of serious injuries. He was later transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead Sept. 30. The driver of the Saturn, Eugene Coyne, 69, of Kings Park, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Coyne was held overnight at the 3rd Precinct and scheduled for arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip Sept. 30.

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File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police arrested a Commack man Sept. 28 for multiple charges relating to a scam during which he took money from victims with the false promise of delivering vehicles.

Between December 2016 and September 2017, Emmanuel Amaral advertised cars for sale on Craigslist. Numerous victims paid him anywhere between $3,000 and $24,000 for a vehicle and waited several months for delivery, which never occurred. In one case, Amaral scammed a victim he met while in line at a bagel shop, and in another instance, defrauded a victim he met at an elementary school event. Amaral defrauded victims out of a total of approximately $73,000.

After an investigation by detectives from the Suffolk County Police, Property/Auto Crime Unit, Amaral was arrested in front of his residence at approximately 2 p.m. today.

Amaral, 48, was charged with seven counts of third-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheming to defraud.

Detectives are asking anyone who feels they may have been victimized by Amaral, who also uses the aliases Manny Balboa and Manny Amaral, to contact the Suffolk County Police, Property/Auto Crime Unit at 631-853-7114.

Amaral is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip and the investigation is ongoing.

The master plan for the spray park at Elwood Park is revealed. The plans are in memory of a Huntington resident Paul Tuozzolo, who was killed in the line of duty. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood residents are looking forward to having a new spray park to play in next summer being built in memory of a slain New York City police sergeant.

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and the town board unveiled plans Sept. 25 for the town’s first interactive water playground to be constructed at Elwood Park in memory of a Huntington resident Paul
Tuozzolo, who was killed in the line of duty.

Lisa Tuozzolo accepts a flag from U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The spray park came about after lengthy conversations between town officials and Tuozzolo’s wife, Lisa, to build a memorial that would be meaningful to the couple’s two children.

“We, of course, are saddened by the tragic incident that cost Paul his life,” Petrone said. “We hope that this spray park will be a place where Austin and Joseph can come and relive their fond memories of their dad and know that all of us will remember the sacrifice he made while trying to keep us safe.”

Tuozzolo, 41, was working for the 43rd Precinct in the Soundview section of the Bronx last November when he was shot and killed responding to what was reported as a home invasion, but later turned out to be domestic incident. A dispatcher told responding officers that a man who had broken into a home was fleeing in a car, which Tuozzolo swiftly tracked down. Upon approaching the vehicle, the suspect opened fire and shot Tuozzolo who died of his injuries.

“We have a phrase in the NYPD that we ‘never forget,’” said Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen, commanding officer of the Patrol Borough Bronx who spoke for the NYPD. “We never forget the members of our department who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. It is something very sacred to us as members of the NYPD … It is also important that people outside of the NYPD understand what kind of man, what kind of officer Sgt. Tuozzolo was.”

Children Austin and Joseph Tuozzolo sit with a family member at the ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

During his 19 years of service, Tuozzolo held various positions including a union representative for the Sergeants Benevolent Association and later on worked in the school unit ensuring safety and well-being of Bronx students, according to Nikunen.

Tuozzolo was known as a “laidback, easy-going sergeant who cared for his cops” whose  passion for children was evident in both his work and his family life, according to his wife.

“The two most important children in his life were his sons, Austin and Joseph, and the moment he walked through the doorway upon returning from work, our home lit up as bright as the sun from the smiles on everyone’s faces,” Lisa said. “Today’s dedication is a fitting tribute to the devotion he had toward his children and I know that he is smiling down with great pride, knowing that his boys will have laughter and smiles at this spray park.”

The park will cover a 2,500-square-foot area with approximately 1,600-square-feet of active play features that will be purchased from playground equipment manufacturer Waterplay Solutions. Its equipment will include a shade structure, six park benches, a 4-foot vinyl-coated chainlink fence and a memorial trellis naming the park.

“We need to tell the story for the future, that Sgt. Tuozzolo is a hero,” said U.S. Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “This park is being named after him because he is a hero, and we hold up heros as people who we want to emulate, people who have made a sacrifice on our behalf to make our lives better.”

Suozzi presented Lisa and her sons with a flag from U.S. Congress in Tuozzolo’s memory.

Kindergartners from Harley Avenue Elementary School help Huntington Town officials ceremoniously break ground on a new spray park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Over the upcoming months, Petrone said the town will continue to work with the Tuozzolo family to finish designing the spray park with construction set to begin in March 2018. The preliminary estimated cost for the project is $450,000 which will come from money paid by the developer of The Seasons at Elwood as part of the community benefits agreement and in part from the town’s park improvement fund.

Kindergartners from Austin’s class at Harley Avenue Elementary School helped town officials ceremoniously break ground on the spray park. Tuozzolo’s wife had a special mission for each student.

“A hero is someone who care about others. A hero is someone who does things for others. I have a job for each and every one of you. Who thinks they can handle that job?”, Lisa asked, watching small hands raise into the air. “The job I’m about to give you is to be a hero just like Austin and Joseph’s daddy was.”

The spray park will be the first of two slated for construction by Huntington officials in 2018, with a second to be built alongside the upcoming James Conte Community Center in Huntington Station.

Residents said the choice of memorial by town officials was gladly welcomed by the local community.

“Huntington is the only town that doesn’t have a spray park,” said Elwood resident Megan Hall. “Myself and other mothers would talk about it. It’s finally an answer to our wishes.”

File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two parents are suing the Kings Park Central School District over a 2015 sexting incident, claiming handling of the matter humiliated their sons and violated their freedom of speech.

Andrew J. Fenton, of Fort Salonga, and Thomas Phelan, of Kings Park, filed a lawsuit after their sons were among more than 25 students suspended for having received a sexual video via text message.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 19, 2017, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges the “suspension of [the students] for receiving a video, unsolicited, which they did not show or send to anyone else, and which bore no nexus to an ensuing school disruption was arbitrary and capricious.” Both Fenton and Phelan seek damages for “humiliation and anguish” of their sons and their records expunged of the suspension.

On Nov. 4, 2015, dozens of Kings Park High School students received a video on their cellphones of two 14-year-olds having sex while at home, according to court documents.

When an assistant principal saw a ninth-grader playing the video in the high school’s cafeteria Nov. 6, school officials began an extensive investigation. The phones of all students who still had the video were temporarily confiscated, according to court documents. School district officials allege both Fenton’s and Phelon’s sons still had the video.

Under Kings Park’s Guidelines for Implementation of School Discipline Policy, “inappropriate texting and use of social media” and “selling, using, transmitting or possessing obscene material” are considered Level IV infractions punishable by up to five days suspension and parental contact.

On Nov. 9 and 10, Kings Park High School Principal Lino Bracco sent certified mail to Fenton and Phelan notifying them that their sons, sophomores at the time, would be suspended for one day for “inappropriate use of an electronic device.” The letter warned that the students were “prohibited from entering upon school grounds for any reason and should remain home under supervision.”

Fenton said he did not receive the Nov. 9 letter in time, and his son was escorted out of the high school on Nov. 10 by two uniformed police officers, according to court documents.

By letter dated Nov. 18, Superintendent Timothy Eagen made an offer to parents that they could submit a request for their child’s disciplinary record to be reviewed, and barring any similar incidents, the suspension would be expunged.

Both parents retained Middletown-based attorneys, partners Robert Isseks and Andrew Smith, who sent letters dated Dec. 9, 2015, requesting the suspensions be immediately removed from the students’ records alleging “they never possessed the message in school or on school property.”

Both parents said Kings Park school district’s cellphone policy also infringed on their sons’ right to free speech. “The only way that [he] or any other student could possibly make sure that he did not find himself in an ‘incident similar in nature’ during the coming year is if he stopped receiving text messages all together,” reads the Dec. 9 letter.

An appeal was made to New York State Department of Education, whose Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia ruled Nov. 10, 2016, that the district’s “suspension of [the students] for receiving a video, unsolicited, which they did not show or send to anyone else, and which bore no nexus to an ensuring school disruption, was arbitrary and capricious.” Elia ordered Kings Park school district to annul and expunge the suspension.

Eagen said that as at press time, Kings Park school district had yet to be served with the lawsuit.

“Parents will sometimes address a particular issue through a media solution rather than an administrative or due process solution,” Eagen said. “However, in choosing this path, sometimes parents will share certain personal and/or confidential information that then becomes a part of public record.”

The superintendent said the district’s policy and practice is to not comment on specific student disciplinary matters and/or pending lawsuits.

Attorney Smith could not be reached for comment by press time. Principal Bracco did not return phone calls requesting an interview or comment.

The Three Village school district welcomed a new drug and alcohol counselor recently. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Donna Newman

At a recent meeting of the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Program — a support group that seeks to educate all and assist parents and family members of teens and young adults battling substance abuse —  I spoke with a young mother of elementary-school-age children. She was there to learn about this growing danger that has taken so many lives in Suffolk County. She is afraid for her children. They are growing up in a society where drug overdose deaths have become routine. She wants to protect her children from becoming victims of substance abuse.

This mom has been on a crusade to make parents aware of the dangers, knowing that this is a Three Village problem and it will take community awareness and extensive effort to combat it. So she speaks to parents of young children wherever she finds them to encourage them to be part of the solution. She told me the majority response from parents is: “Not my kid. She’s an A student.” Or, “Not my kid, he’s an athlete.” Or simply, “My child would never get involved in that.”

I’m here to tell you that you need to take your head out of the sand.

The significant drug problem at Ward Melville High School when my sons were in attendance in the 1990s was not publicly acknowledged by the school district — or anyone else other than the parents whose children “got into trouble.” Mine did not. They were honor grads, heavily involved in extracurricular activities.

However, in a conversation with one of my sons, years after graduation, I learned he had used drugs with some regularity while in high school. It turned out I had been one of those clueless parents. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Lucky, because back then, when a teenager bought marijuana, it was just pot. It was not the cannabis of today, which may be laced with illicit and scary drugs by dealers seeking to hook kids on stronger stuff. Lucky, because he did not have a propensity, and his “recreational” use never rose to the level of addiction.

Full disclosure: As a college student in the 1960s I experimented with marijuana as well. My equally clueless mother discovered a small baggie of weed in my room. She trashed it, never saying a word to me. In that era, just knowing she knew was enough to get me to stop.

The school district has finally acknowledged the fact that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, not a moral lapse requiring punishment.

According to “School district welcomes new drug and alcohol counselor” in the  July 20 edition of The Village Times Herald, the district has hired a substance abuse counselor. Heather Reilly, certified social worker, will be tasked with rotating through the secondary schools one day each week (including the Three Village Academy alternative high school program), providing substance abuse counseling, educating faculty about warning signs and drug lingo, and creating educational curriculum for sixth-graders in collaboration with elementary health teachers. She will also be available to work directly with families.

While this is a laudable first step, it’s not nearly enough. Change will not happen without a concerted community effort. Parents need to accept the fact that this is a real problem affecting Three Villagers across the cultural and economic spectrum. Yes, it could even be your child.

Folks must come to grips with the fact that chemical dependency is a potentially fatal illness and that 90 percent of sufferers go untreated. They need to acknowledge that kids who are addicted to alcohol and/or opioid drugs are not “bad” kids. They are youngsters whose brains are not fully developed, who made bad choices that led to a tragic outcome. It’s time for all of us to learn all we can about prevention and to come together to end this plague.

There’s a lot you can do. For starters, attend the monthly meetings at the Bates House in Setauket. Dates and times are listed on Facebook on the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Parent Group page — along with other helpful information. Learn when and how to begin to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and your family’s rules concerning underage drinking and substance abuse. A good place to begin is at New York State’s online site www.talk2prevent.ny.gov.

The next meeting at the Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, will be held Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Donna Newman, a freelance writer, is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) discusses red light cameras during a press conference in Miller Place Sept. 21. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) is calling for an investigation into the county’s annual Red Light Camera Program Report, which he said has purposefully, and illegally, eliminated data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

Trotta stood with fellow legislators and colleagues Sept. 21 at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place to address his ongoing concerns with a lack of available statistics surrounding accidents, injuries and deaths due to the county’s red light camera program, highlighting a conversation he had last month with a traffic engineer of Nelson & Pope, the company that prepares the annual reports.

The traffic engineer, according to Trotta, advised him that the company was instructed not to include the pedestrian and bicyclist-involved accidents at red light camera locations in reports, in order to paint a better picture of the program. The reports are submitted to the state and made available to the public. The most recent report was released in April and highlighted statistics for 2015. While pedestrian and bicycle-involved accidents have been reported in a scattered few reports since the program began in 2010, the data has not been included in the last two years’ reports.

Trotta said the data exclusion is a violation of the state’s motor vehicle and traffic law, which states the mandatory annual report must include the number, type and severity of all accidents reported at these intersections with traffic control devices.

He also said it is not clear who is behind the data exclusion, the county or the company behind the red light camera program, but urged the state attorney general to get involved so the guilty party can be held accountable.

“How can anybody adequately look at the positive or negative features of a program when they’re not getting all the data?” Trotta said during the press conference. The legislator has long been opposed to the program, which he said he believes is the cause of an uptick in accidents throughout the area and is merely a ticket and revenue-generating scam by the county. “There are multiple reasons why this program should be shut down immediately and I’m aghast by the fact that we’re doing nothing and we are lying to the public by not including the pedestrians and the bicyclists. When I found about this, I couldn’t believe it.”

Trotta was joined by Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Smithtown) and Tom Muratore (R-Selden), as well as county legislature candidate Gary Pollakusky (R), at the busy intersection where two teenagers have died after being struck by cars, which features red light cameras.

“We lost a child here on a bicycle and a child here as a pedestrian,” Trotta said, referring to 14-year-old Nico Signore who died earlier this year, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died in 2015. “But I guess that doesn’t mean anything to anybody because they’re not even including [those accidents] in the report. I absolutely think there’s cohersion with the county and this company to keep the money stream coming in. This entire program is just a calamity of errors.”

Pollakusky said he supports the suspension of the red light camera program due to its negative impact on public safety.

“The red light camera program is a money grab by [County Executive Steve Bellone] and the Democrats in the Legislature and has been sold to the public as a public safety program — it is anything but safe,” Pollakusky said, stressing that accidents have increased after the red light cameras were installed.

He also took issue with his opponent, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who initially voted against the program but has since come to agree with its mission of changing poor traffic.

“[She] is famous for saying ‘if it saves one child’s life,’ it’s worth it [but] this program that you and your cohorts support, Mrs. Anker, has hurt innocent drivers, pedestrians and children alike,” Pollakusky said.

Personal injury lawyer David Raimondo, based in Lake Grove, represents the Luke family and pointed to an omission of data, including fatalities of pedestrians in auto accidents, in a presentation before the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014 led to the red light camera program’s renewal.

“It’s up for renewal in 2019 and if we don’t have the proper data before the Legislature, it will continue to be renewed and we cannot let that happen,” Raimondo said. “It’s very important this program come to an end, it be suspended and that the suffering of the taxpayers of Suffolk County — both financially and physically — end.”

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