Police & Fire

The Stony Brook Fire District seeks to purchase two Spartan pumpers like the one above. Photo from Spartan Motors

Voters in the Stony Brook Fire District will have a chance to say “yes” to the future.

A special election will take place Aug. 7 in the fire district on a proposition to give the board of fire commissioners authorization to purchase two Spartan pumper trucks with a capacity for 1,250 gallons per minute and related equipment for a cost not exceeding $1.4 million.

Fire district commissioner Brian McAllister said the new pumpers, manufactured by Spartan Motors, will replace two 1994 models currently in use by the district. He said pumpers are emergency vehicles that carry the water tank, firefighting tools and hoses. The volunteers need the trucks for any water work during a fire, while ladder trucks are utilized during rescue efforts such as roof cutting or breaking down doors.

McAllister said typically after 25 years emergency vehicles are pulled out of service. Emergency vehicles experience more wear and tear than the average car, especially on the brakes, according to the fire commissioner.

“It’s not normal driving,” he said. “It’s always emergency response, so that puts excess wear on the vehicles. And the vehicles themselves are already 30- or 40,0000 pounds.”

McAllister said there has been a lot of advances in technology and firefighting standards since the 1994 trucks were made, including with data and digital control centers. He said the pump that operates the water is more advanced and the tanks are made of a more flexible material than in the past, which allows for more storage space in the vehicle. Another advantage is that the new pumpers will require less maintenance than older models and therefore will be on the road more, since vehicles needing maintenance are often taken out of service temporarily while being repaired.

Before putting the proposition up for vote, he said the fire district put together a committee that looked at pumpers from various manufacturers and decided what the firehouses needed. The committee sat with a spec writer, visited neighboring departments to inspect their trucks and searched for manufacturers who could meet their requirements. A public informational meeting was held July 17 to allow residents the opportunity to ask any questions.

McAllister said the process took approximately two years, and if the district gets the go-ahead to buy the pumpers, it will be more than a year before the trucks arrive.

“It’s not a fast process but done correctly, spec’d correctly and paying attention to detail, we can try to generate or create a vehicle, in partnership with the manufacturer, for one that will be maintenance-free or at least low maintenance and that will also suit our needs,” McAllister said.

Voters in the Stony Brook Fire District, who were registered with the Suffolk County Board of Elections on or before July 15, can vote in the special election, Tuesday, Aug. 7, between 2 to 9 p.m.

Polls are located at 147 Main St., Stony Brook, for those north of the railroad tracks and at 1402 Stony Brook Road for voters residing south of the railroad tracks.

File photo

Update at 4:15 p.m.:  Suffolk County police have announced that Rodriguez has died as result of his injuries.

Original: Suffolk County Police Major Case Unit detectives are investigating a hit-and-run crash that seriously injured a pedestrian in Huntington early Thursday morning.

Veronica Borracci. Photo from SCPD

Sair Rodriguez was walking on the southbound shoulder of Broadway at the intersection of Legacy Court in Huntington Aug. 2 when he was struck by a vehicle traveling southbound on Broadway. Rodriguez, 32, of Greenlawn was transported to Huntington Hospital by Greenlawn Fire Department where he later died of his injuries.

Detectives believe the vehicle that struck Rodriguez was a blue Hyundai Elantra, with possible front end damage and a missing passenger side view mirror.

Police arrested Veronica Borracci, 17, of Dix Hills, at approximately 9 a.m. and charged her with allegedly  leaving the scene of an accident Resulting in death. She will be held overnight at the 2nd Precinct for arraignment Aug. 3 at 1st District Court in Central Islip.

The investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

Crab Meadow Golf course.

Vandals struck the Town of Huntington’s Crab Meadow Golf Course causing about  $124,000 in damages earlier this week.

Huntington Town officials announced four holes at the Crab Meadow Golf Course in Northport were damaged overnight between July 30 and 31.

“It’s a shame that someone would attempt to destroy one of the town’s great recreational attractions,” said Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R). “Don’t let them spoil your fun — I encourage all who enjoy golf to take advantage of our discounted rates while the three greens are repaired.”

“It’s a shame that someone would attempt to destroy one of the town’s great recreational attractions.”

– Chad Lupinacci

The vandalism to holes 1, 11 and 17 occurred between 9 p.m. July 30, when the final golf cart was turned in, and 2 a.m. July 31 when a golf course employee arrived, according to the town.  The damage appears to have been done by a blunt object as opposed to a dirt bike, town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo said.

One of the greens sustained insignificant damaged, which will be repaired in-house by town employees, Lembo said. The town will be filing an insurance claim for the estimated costs of  repairs at $124,000, which will take approximately four to six weeks, and for any lost revenue during that time.

The town has filed a police report, and the public safety department is ramping up park ranger and security patrols immediately in response to the incident. While gates to the golf course are locked each night and public safety officers patrol, according to Lembo, there are no security cameras at the site.

Due to the damage, the town will offer a 10 percent discount on greens fees for golfers as there are temporary greens in place at holes 1, 11 and 17. One exception, this excludes the
demand-based pricing promotion implemented earlier this year.

The town established a pilot promotion late this spring to drive up nonresident business, which has been a success. The golf course offers discounted rates during off-peak hours, reducing rates to tee off for nonresidents and residents without a golf cart. This has resulted in increased use of the golf course.

“We hosted approximately 1,000 rounds of golf this weekend, which is about 18 percent higher than usual,” said Greg Wagner, the town’s director of Parks & Recreation.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call 800-220-TIPS (8477).

During an 18-year span, an East Setauket financial adviser allegedly scammed 17 people out of more than $13 million, according to a federal indictment.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Steven Pagartanis faces nine federal charges.

Steven Pagartanis will face federal charges in addition to county charges for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme in East Setauket. Photo from Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

The 58-year-old owner of Omega Planning Associates, was arrested and arraigned in federal court in Central Islip July 25 and was charged with security fraud, mail and wire fraud conspiracies, as well as money laundering for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, according to a press release from the EDNY office.

The government alleged Pagartanis solicited individuals to invest in variable annuities, mutual funds and similar investments, according to court documents. At least 17 individuals between January 2000 and March 2018 invested more than $13 million collectively with the defendant. The victims believed the money was for real estate investments, including a Canadian land development company, referred to as Company 1 in court documents. The individuals sustained a loss of more than $8 million. The investors are listed as Jane and John Does in the court documents and live in various areas including Long Island, Illinois, California and Florida.

“Rather than investing in Company 1 and other investments as promised to the victims, the defendant Steven Pagartanis, used the investment capital to repay prior investors and for his own personal benefit,” the release reads. “For example, Pagartanis used the victims’ investment capital to pay for his personal and family expenses, and to purchase luxury items such as clothing, jewelry, airline tickets, massages and cigars.”

The defendant used interstate communications including telephone calls and emails to induce the victims to invest and to prevent them from withdrawing their investments, according to court documents.

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings,” said Richard Donoghue, U. S. attorney, in a statement. “Protecting the elderly and the community at large from predators like the defendant is a priority of this office and the Department of Justice and with our law enforcement partners we will continue to pursue that mission.”

“As alleged, Pagartanis conned vulnerable members of the community who had entrusted him with their hard-earned savings.”

— Richard Donoghue

Pagartanis was previously arrested May 30 for allegedly stealing millions from elderly victims in a Ponzi scheme, according to a statement from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. He was arraigned in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip on two counts of first-degree grand larceny, a B felony, and two counts of second-degree grand larceny, a C felony. According to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office, Pagartanis allegedly stole approximately $7.5 million from his victims in the county case.

A family member of one of the victims brought the case to the attention of the district attorney’s office. The four victims included in the felony complaints, who range in age from 64 to 83 years old, began investing in the scheme in 2013, according to the statement from Sini’s office.

Pursuant to a concurrent investigation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc., Pagartanis was barred from acting as a securities broker April 10, according to FINRA’s website, brokercheck.finra.org. The site lists customer disputes as well as a judgment/lien against the former broker. In addition to the criminal charges, a civil lawsuit was filed against Pagartanis May 30 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, according to Sini’s office.

Attorney Kevin Keating of Garden City is representing Pagartanis. The defendant pleaded not guilty. Keating did not respond to a request for comment.

The sun came out from behind clouds to shine down on Huntington Fire Department’s volunteers as they celebrated the organization’s 175th anniversary July 28.

The event kicked off with a 4 p.m. parade that stepped off from Huntington Town Hall, headed west on Main Street before turning north onto Wall Street and ended at the Leverich Place firestation.  Huntington resident Henry Gerdes, 98, was selected as the parade’s grand marshal in honor of his 78 years of volunteer service to the fire department.  Numerous fire companies traveled in from as far away as Sheldon, Connecticut to march with their trucks draped in banners announcing their congratulations to Huntington on their 175th anniversary.

After the parade, Huntington residents and community were invited to a free festival behind the firehouse featuring free refreshment, live entertainment, carnival games, inflatable rides for children late into the evening.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Northport July 29.

Northport resident James Cherry was driving a 2016 Subaru eastbound on Fort Salonga Road at Layne Way when his vehicle struck a man who stepped off the sidewalk in an attempt to cross the road at approximately 11:45 a.m. Sunday. 

Peter Carroll, 68 of Northport, was transported to Huntington Hospital via Northport Rescue where he was pronounced dead. Cherry, 27, of Northport, was not injured.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

Combating fires in Huntington has progressed a long way from the use of leather buckets and wooden ladders over the last 175 years.

The Huntington Fire Department will be celebrating the 175th anniversary of its volunteer fire company’s formation July 28 with a parade kicking off at 4 p.m. from town hall to its Leverich Place station. The department’s oldest active living member, Henry Gerdes, has been selected as the parade’s grand marshal.

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department,” he said, since its founding in 1843. “You have to grow with them.”

“Huntington has grown tremendously and so has the fire department.”
– Henry Gerdes

Gerdes, 98, has volunteered his time to help the Huntington Fire Department since he was a boy working in his family-run ice cream and candy shop on Main Street. He recalled pouring cups of coffee for volunteer firemen heading on their way to work only to learn they couldn’t always hear the firehouse’s siren.

“If the wind blew the wrong way, they couldn’t hear it,” said Gerdes, who worked down the street from the Main Street station. “I would have to call them up, having to use a nickel at my payphone.”

He alerted volunteers of fires using payphone No. 28 in his family’s shop. After a few months, the process improved when telephone operators learned of what he was doing and stepped in to help direct firefighters directly to the site of the fire to meet the trucks there.

Gerdes officially joined the Huntington Fire Department in December 1939 and upon returning from serving during World War II he rose to the rank of captain. The 1950s and 60s were a busy time for the firehouse, he said, as the town was rapidly expanding and changing.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat.”
– Henry Gerdes

“Daytime fires would be brush fires or nothing,” Gerdes said. “But come night or the winter, everyone had coal stoves and fireplaces. There were a lot of chimney fires.”

In 1959, the fire station was relocated from Main Street to its current spot on Leverich Place.

“There used to be no traffic to worry about,” Gerdes said. “They had to move the Main Street firehouse because it was impossible to get to with trucks and cars.”

Firefighting methods and the department’s equipment have drastically improved since the early 1900s, according to Gerdes, who emphasized that while the department purchased top-of-the-line trucks the volunteer’s safety was treated very differently.

“We had no masks, no tanks and you walked into a fire as you were, you were lucky if you had a raincoat,” he said. “The first one on the truck gets first selection.”

While Huntington’s Main Street and New York Avenue business district had fire hydrants installed in the late 1800s, Gerdes said firefighters often had to go looking for a wrench to open it up. For residential fires, volunteers had to locate the nearest well or pond to drain water to extinguish the flames.

“When I first joined, they didn’t have 50 fires a year,” he said. “Now, they have more than 600.”

“Recruitment is a constant issue. We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.
– Henry Gerdes

In 2017, Huntington Fire Department volunteers responded to 655 calls including emergencies, car crashes, fires and automated alarms with October being the busiest month. The department has grown to consist of three companies: The engine, hose, and hook and ladder units.

One thing that’s remained unchanged over the years, according to Gerdes, has been the need to ensure there are enough active volunteer firefighters, and now, first responders, to ensure residents’ safety.

“Recruitment is a constant issue,” he said. “We were always looking for volunteers. Today they are still looking for volunteers.”

The lifelong firefighter warned that it’s not all “fun and games” but a work that requires significant training and irregular hours, including late nights and holidays. Yet, he has taken pride in serving the department and being part of its history.

“The fire department I belong to is the best,” Gerdes said. “They do a good job, they work hard, and they do the right thing. I’m very proud of them and anything I did to help them along the way.”

Residents are invited to join the firefighters in their 175th anniversary gala celebration from 5 to 11 p.m. following the parade at the Leverich Place fire station featuring complimentary bounce houses and slides for kids, pony rides, a dunk tank and other carnival-like activities. Entertainment will be provided by the Little Wilson Band and free refreshments will be served.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks during an interviw at TBR News Media in Setauket July 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Seven months into Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.’s (D-Lake Grove) term, several issues have become top priorities. He sat for an exclusive interview at the TBR News Media office with the editorial staff July 20 to detail the road ahead.

Staffing issues within Sheriff’s office

The sheriff’s office is short-staffed specifically due to officers retiring or leaving for higher paying jobs elsewhere, according to Toulon.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day,” he said. “We just lost two — one going to [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] police and one going to the New York City Police Academy. I’m expecting to lose two in the near future; more going to other law enforcement [jobs].”

The department is short on 76 mandated posts that the two county corrections facilities are supposed to have. This has led to an increase in overtime for existing corrections personnel. Toulon said he sees the low starting salary for Suffolk County corrections officers as the primary driver of the staff shortage. Those in the positions are paid $30,000 per year initially, reaching about $76,000 after 12 years. Starting salaries in Nassau County or New York City corrections are about $10,000 more.

“The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

Toulon said 30 people will be graduating from the county academy Aug. 8 to fill some of the vacancies.

A pay raise would have to be approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, though Toulon said he supports it.

School Security

As the occurrences of school shootings seemingly increase nationally, especially after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, security has become a hot topic amongst school districts and communities. The sheriff’s office is working on the issue as well. Toulon said getting everybody on the same page when it comes to securing schools is a tough but essential job, which requires coordination between school security, police departments and the sheriff’s office.

“When you are going into these schools you frequently realize some of these schools have armed security, some have unarmed security, and some have security that are armed because they hired retired law enforcement, and it’s not publicized,” Toulon said.

School security officers obviously do not have standards as far as uniforms across county school districts. Further confusing local law enforcement, each school might have different protocols in engaging an active shooter, whether they will actively engage the shooter with a firearm or focus on getting the children to safety.

Toulon said he and his officers have gone into schools at the request of the districts to perform security assessments. So far 10 out of 69 school districts in Suffolk County have taken the Sheriff’s department up on the offer.

Toulon said an ideal setup might be having standardized training for all school districts and school security officers in the county not only so they would know what to do in a school fire, bomb or shooting scenario, but also because it would train them to interact with any local police that arrive on the scene.

The sheriff’s office plans to host a forum for Suffolk County school superintendents August 16 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue to talk broadly about school security and to share ideas.

Dealing with gangs and immigration officials

Toulon said that while county jails only hold people charged with local crimes, they do work with the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency when it comes to some inmates.

“I’m almost signing one to two retirement letters a day.”

— Errol Toulon Jr.

“The sheriff’s office doesn’t profile people,” Toulon said. “If you blow a stop sign or a red light, we are going to pull you over. The people in our custody that have detainers are not good people. I wouldn’t want them on our streets – I wouldn’t care what their status is.”

Toulon stressed that the sheriff’s department does not participate on any ICE raids. He advised the immigrant community to know their Miranda Rights, that they do not have to communicate to police without a lawyer, and that anyone concerned about an arrest could contact the sheriff’s office.

Many people in local communities are concerned about activities perpetrated by the local incarnations of the MS-13 gang. Several high-profile gang murders were prosecuted in the past few years, including the 2017 murder of two young girls in Brentwood, complicating community-law enforcement relations and heating up a polarized, politically-based national discourse. Stories of abuses of power carried out by the federal agency, mostly in areas nearer to the southern border, have not been representative of the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office’s dealings with ICE, Toulon said, adding that he would not tolerate inappropriate behavior from any uniformed officer within the facilities he oversees, be them staff under his purview or otherwise.

Toulon said comments made by President Donald Trump (R) on the matter have made his job tougher, especially when dealing with local immigrant communities.

“The tensions that I see in the immigrant community come from what they see going on in the rest of the country,” Toulon said. “The fact that our current president tweets about it and makes comments about a whole population – that is not fair, it makes my job a lot more difficult.”

Police are searching for a couple who stole groceries in Centereach. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate two people who stole merchandise from a Centereach store.

A man and woman allegedly stole steak and shrimp from Stop & Shop, 260 Pond Path,  July 20 at approximately 6:30 p.m. The stolen merchandise has a combined value of approximately $300, according to police.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637) or by email at www.tipsubmit.com. All calls, text messages and emails will be kept confidential.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

A dispute inside a Port Jefferson Station pool hall resulted in the shooting death of a 27-year-old man July 22.

Suffolk County Police Homicide detectives are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred inside Billiards DBM, located at 1604 Main Street in Port Jefferson Station at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, according to police.

Following an altercation, Albert Luis Lopez Rodriguez was shot inside the hall, police said. Rodriguez, 27, of Selden was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

The investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.