Times of Huntington-Northport

Suffolk County police car. File photo

The Suffolk County Police Department arrested a Staten Island man early Friday morning after officers allegedly found him stealing 800 pounds of cooking oil from two local restaurants.

Police said the officers, Daniel Denig and John McAleavey of the 2nd Precinct, were patrolling in Huntington at 6 a.m. when they spotted a man stealing cooking oil from a holding container behind the New York Avenue businesses, New York Pizza and New China Restaurant.

The two restaurants, in a strip of stores off of New York Avenue just west of Lowndes Avenue, put their used cooking oil into that holding container, police said, and the container is owned by Newark-based biofuel recycling company Darling International.

Officers arrested the suspect, 36-year-old Joskey Henry, and charged him with petit larceny. The suspect is a resident of a neighborhood in northeastern Staten Island, near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Attorney information for the defendant was not immediately available.

A police department spokesperson said in a phone interview Friday that Henry’s vehicle was “impounded for evidence,” but the exact details of the vehicle’s connection to the crime were not immediately clear.

Police are still investigating the case.

Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

A state audit cracked down on the Commack Union Free School District, accusing officials of mishandling funds and costing taxpayers.

The audit, which was released Aug. 5, said Commack school administrators needed to do a better job overseeing the budgeting process after the district overestimated expenditures in its adopted budgets and did not use surplus cash to finance operations. The audit also found the district did not maintain a “complete and adequate” record of its fuel inventory to safeguard and account for its fuel.

“From 2011-12 through 2013-14, total actual revenues exceeded expenditures by as much as $3.7 million,” Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said in the audit, and while the district had a $24 million fund balance, it only used $1.8 million to offset taxes. “Had district officials used more realistic budget estimates, they could have avoided the accumulation of excess fund balance and possibly reduced the real property tax levy.”

The report also found that discrepancies in the fuel inventory records were not investigated. According to DiNapoli, Commack’s head groundskeeper performed a monthly reconciliation of district fuel purchase and use records with the actual fuel on hand but never acted on discrepancies, even though anything left unresolved within 48 hours must be reported to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In response, Commack Superintendent Donald James said the district had “varying fiscal philosophies” but cited a list of changes it would be implementing moving forward. As for the comptroller’s remarks on Commack’s financial condition, James kept it short and sweet.

“The district will review the expenditure budget areas and the variables affecting such areas discussed in the audit report in depth to assure reasonable estimates are presented,” he said in a statement.

District spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch said the district saves money through strong budgeting practices and all of its savings are returned to the taxpayers the following year.

“We go to great efforts not to spend the money the residents of this community entrust to us,” she said in a statement. “Further, the district returns every dollar not spent in the budget to the taxpayers to keep the tax levy as low as possible, and to continue to offer the multitude of programs and services that Commack is known for, and the community expects.”

On the subject of fuel inventory records, James had a lot more to say.

“The district has taken great care and effort to develop and implement new procedures to ensure that fuel supplies are adequately safeguarded, accounted for and protected against risk of loss or unidentified leakage,” he said in a response outlined within the audit.

Moving forward, James said the district would record, monitor and reconcile its fuel inventory via a senior account clerk and install video surveillance systems to monitor the area of the 2,500-gallon underground fuel tank and pump.

DiNapoli’s audit set out to evaluate the district’s overall financial condition and fuel inventory, specifically between July 1, 2013, and Nov. 30, 2014. The comptroller extended the scope of his audit back to July 1, 2011, however, to provide better perspective and background.

DiNapoli recommended the district develop procedures to ensure it adopts more reasonable budgets — to avoid raising more real property taxes than necessary — and use more of its surplus funds to support future budgets and reduce the burden on taxpayers. He also recommended the district adopt written policies to ensure fuel is periodically measured and to report discrepancies promptly.

A deli on the Platt’s Tavern site would be demolished under Dominick Mavellia’s zone change application to construct a medical office building. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board postponed a decision on whether to rezone a historic Huntington village property that once hosted George Washington for dinner in 1790.

The deadline for the decision was Sept. 7, but the board voted to extend that until Dec. 6.

The project area is the site of the former Platt’s Tavern, one of the first buildings in the area. According to town documents, Washington dined at the establishment on April 23, 1790, during a tour of Long Island.

Developer Dominick Mavellia wants to change the zoning of a parcel on the corner of Route 25A and Park Avenue from R-15 Residence District to C-1 Office Residence District to make way for a 10,000-square-foot medical office building at the site. Of that space, GoHealth Urgent Care would occupy 3,000 square feet, and 7,000 square feet would be regular medical office space for North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Part of the plan would also include situating a life-sized statue of George Washington beside his horse on the property.

At a public hearing on June 9, residents said they wanted a more historic look incorporated into the application — particularly with the proposed design of the structure. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said the extra time on the decision is in part to afford the developer and the community more time to work on the application.

“The owner of the property continues to work with residents and historical groups to tweak the property to reflect their concerns and comments, so this gives him extra time to do more tweaking,” town spokesman A.J. Carter said in an interview this week.

Cops say arrests are up and recent violence gang-related

Christina Fudenski, a Greenlawn resident, speaks with police officer Angela Ferrara at South Huntington Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Residents of Huntington are calling for an increase in staffing at the Suffolk County Police Department’s 2nd Precinct in the wake of three separate shootings that occurred in less than a month.

Deputy Inspector William Read assured community members gathered at South Huntington Public Library on Wednesday, Aug. 13, that the police force is completely competent in its current size, but residents were not convinced.

“We want to ask for outside help,” Jim McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident said. “We can’t go on this way, our kids are being shot at.”

Luis Hernandez, 21, Aaron Jolly, 18, and Nelson Hernandez, 22, all survived shootings in the Huntington Station and Greenlawn area in late July and August. Luis Hernandez and Jolly both suffered from gunshot wounds to their legs, and Nelson Hernandez was shot in the back.

“What we’re doing is working, our program is effective, and crime stats are down dramatically,” Read said. “We are having success, but it can’t be 100 percent.”

The police associate many of the recent problems in the area with gangs, and Read said that gang cops have been out undercover investigating these cases constantly. He said there are a number of social programs combatting gang issues as well.

But the crowd argued that not enough is being done, and that more problems are arising.

Lisa MacKenzie, a Huntington resident, asked what the police are doing about the ongoing problem of intoxicated individuals passing out in the streets in Huntington Station.

“Why are these individuals taken to the hospital and not arrested?”

Officer Angela Ferrara explained that it is always the duty of the police and the standard procedure to treat someone medically first. She also noted that this has become a concern in many different areas in Huntington.

“What if I am on Depot Road in the future and hit [someone] who is intoxicated and attempting to cross the street, who will actually get in trouble then?” MacKenzie said. “We need drunk crossing signs, instead of deer crossing signs.”

Residents also complained about the how 911 dispatchers handle calls. Several said in the past, dispatchers have told them to either leave their car or house to get closer to a scene.

“They had the nerve to tell me to flag down one of the patrol cars when I called, and to get out of my car…this is putting the public at risk,” Nicholas Wieland, of The Huntingtonian news website, said. “You guys have some homework to do with the 911 service.”

Robert Finnerty, a Huntington Station resident, brought his son to the meeting, and said he is now afraid to go outside.

“We have people in the street across from us saying ‘I will shoot you in the street, I will kill you,’ and it’s scaring my son,” Finnerty said. He said the residents yelling this are people living in single dwelling homes occupied by five different families.

“We have to go after the overcrowded houses,” McGoldrick said. “It’s not fair to the police officers and fire firefighters. One of the biggest problems is how housing is handled in this town.”

As members of the audience agreed housing is a town issue, not a police one, the tone changed toward a desire to see a change in leadership in Huntington Town. Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (R) were both present at the meeting, as well as Huntington Town Board candidate Jennifer Thompson, a member of the Northport-East Northport school board.

Despite the criticism throughout the night, the 2nd Precinct deputy inspector defended the department’s work.

“We’re covering all our sectors, we’ve been doing it for years,” he said.

File photo

The Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps is running out of credit, and is calling on the Smithtown Town Board to help them change the way they sustain cash.

Director Rich O’Brien and chief Tom Lowenberg of the Commack VAC spoke before the Town Board at a work session on Tuesday morning with hopes of swaying the town to help them seek new ways to collect revenue and, hopefully, save taxpayer dollars for both Smithtown and Huntington residents who utilize the service.

O’Brien pitched a plan that would essentially bill private insurance companies for patient care, which he said would ultimately reduce the amount of money both towns would need to allocate to the group on an annual basis.

When a resident receives care through the Commack VAC, O’Brien said the group would then submit a patient care report to the hospital, which would gather insurance information on the patient, and then the VAC would bill the insurance company for reimbursement of costs, which could be as high as $1,000 on any given call. If a resident does not have insurance, he said the group would establish a plan in which they could pay for the services they received.

O’Brien said his group’s call volume has been steadily increasing to nearly 3,600 calls each year, but revenues have not matched the growth to accommodate activities.

“This is simply the most practical way to save taxpayer money,” O’Brien said. “Commack is growing, and if you look at the Commack division between Smithtown and Huntington, our calls are coming in around 60 percent Smithtown and 40 percent Huntington.”

The director said the group had been advised to borrow money to keep it afloat, but rising debt costs have left the VAC at what O’Brien and Lowenberg called a plateau.

“We started borrowing, but our operating budget has suffered,” Lowenberg said.

In order to reduce taxpayer dollars, O’Brien said Commack should follow suit of other volunteer ambulance corps across Long Island to seek financial reimbursements from residents’ insurance companies, and use the money to help expand the services and also leave the group less reliant on town money.

Lowenberg said insurance company reimbursements were an untapped resource utilized typically at private ambulance companies, but not as much by volunteer groups.

He also said new revenues would help the VAC fund a fifth ambulance vehicle and potentially expand into a new space near Commack Road and New Highway.

The 2015 adopted budget for Smithtown allocated $1,001,435 for the entire Commack Ambulance District.

Smithtown Comptroller Donald Musgnug said he has been working with the VAC to comb through the numbers and assess the best plan of action. He said insurance company money could potentially be what might eventually allow Commack’s VAC to stand on its own without the town’s taxpayer money to sustain it.

“It does seem to be a legal form of service they could do,” he said. “Clearly, there is a need for good volunteer ambulance corps service. Looking long-range, it stabilizes taxes to the district and would result in a decrease. It definitely should be pursued.”

The Commack group would still need Huntington Town to sign onto the plan in order to make it practical, Musgnug said, and town officials there have been vetting the proposal for future consideration.

Town board, hospital ink helipad agreement

The SkyHealth team. Photo from Huntington Hospital

Huntington Hospital is flying high.

The town board on Tuesday approved a license agreement with the hospital to use a portion of the town’s parking facility adjoining Mill Dam Park as a helipad. The agreement spans from August to July 31, 2017.

With the helipad, the hospital will be air-transporting, via helicopter, patients in need of urgent or emergent care to the most appropriate health care facility to address their needs. The hospital will also transport “harvested organs to and from the Huntington Hospital,” according to the town board resolution.

“North Shore – LIJ Health System has developed a new air medical service program called SkyHealth, which is staffed by highly skilled medical professionals,” Randolph Howard, vice president of operations at Huntington Hospital said in a statement through a hospital spokeswoman. “Developing a heliport in Huntington provides a key location from which SkyHealth can transport critically ill patients who require immediate medical transportation. Through this heliport, SkyHealth will provide a vital service to the residents of the greater Huntington area.”

James Margolin, an attorney with the firm Margolin & Margolin, said the helipad already exists, but it is in need of an upgrade — one that the hospital will undertake.

“We thank the town board for its continuing commitment to getting the lifesaving community service into effect,” he said.

SkyHealth is a partnership with Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut and the North Shore- LIJ Health System. Patients of both health systems in need of lifesaving care for major traumas, heart attack, stroke and other life-threatening brain injuries will receive emergency medical care by helicopter and be quickly flown to the most appropriate hospital, according to the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s website.

The helicopter would be staffed with a nurse, a critical care paramedic, all certified in New York and Connecticut, and a pilot. That would be the “standard crew,” according to Gene Tangney, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of North Shore-LIJ in a SkyHealth promotional video.

Huntington Hospital will pay the town $14,062 upon the execution of the license agreement, and another $14,062 at the end of the agreement, according to the resolution.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) requested quarterly reports from the hospital to ensure the volume is “consistent with what we agreed upon.” Margolin agreed to the request.

‘Bronx’ 2015 by Ruben Natal-San Miguel

By Talia Amorosano

Born in Puerto Rico and currently residing in New York City, photographer, writer and art critic Ruben Natal-San Miguel knows what it is like to experience life in vastly different places. With photography exhibited in New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Mexico City (among other national and international locations), he has a knack for capturing images that display the human spirit in unique and varied settings.

His visionary eye for capturing people and life has been brought to Long Island’s own Ripe Art Gallery in Huntington. An artist reception was held on Aug. 8. The Rights of Summer  photography exhibit, juried by himself and Sean Corcoran (curator of photography and prints for the Museum of the City of New York), showcases his original photography alongside the work of over 25 other photographers from Long Island to Japan (to Portugal, to Canada, to Missouri, to California).

“Everybody’s summer looks different depending on where and how they live,” said Cherie Via Rexer, owner of Ripe Art Gallery, who has worked with Natal-San Miguel during past exhibitions.

This statement uncovers the main controlling idea of the exhibit, that different people of different socioeconomic classes, cultures, lifestyles and locations experience and celebrate summer differently.  “We wanted to see what summer looked like for the 99 percent as well as the 1 percent,” said Via Rexer, who noted that the Ripe Art Gallery is the perfect place to showcase this theme, based on its location between New York City and the Hamptons.

‘Mercy Playground’ 2014 by Ruben Natal-San Miguel
‘Mercy Playground’ 2014 by Ruben Natal-San Miguel

The result of sorting through over 300 submissions is a final set of 57 images that each convey summer living in a diverse way and showcase “a little bit of everything,” according to Via Rexer.  The styles of the photographs range from portraits to landscapes to abstract, but they all illustrate the Rights of Summer.

A particularly striking photograph that Via Rexer believes embodies the theme of the exhibit is “Bronx,” by Natal-San Miguel, in which a man stands in front of the ocean with the iconic word visibly tattooed across his back. “It shows a beautiful beach that is surrounded by projects and all kinds of living situations,” she said.  “It shows the ocean but visibly zeroes in on a location.”

Also notable are the six established fine art photographers whose work will be on display at the exhibit: Richard Misrach, Christopher Rauschenberg (related to photographer Robert Rauschenberg), Karine Laval, Gillian Laub, Amy Arbus (related to photographer Diane Arbus) and Arlene Gottfried.   

Eleonora Ronconi captured Best in Show with “Corn Stand,” first runner up was “Girl from Palm Springs” by Dolly Faibyshev, second runner up was Robert Herman’s “Heat Wave NYC NY” and third runner up was Luis Carle’s “Abanicos.” Honorable mentions went to Lauren Welles for “Coney Island 1,” Jennifer McClure for “Untitled,” Nancy Oliveri for “Coney Island Venus” and Russ Rowland’s “Brighton Beached 3.”

All are encouraged to view the artwork on display until Sept. 5. This event is sure to excite photography and fine art enthusiasts alike and offers a great opportunity for Long Islanders to view art by both internationally recognized and local photographers.

Ripe Art Gallery is located at 1028 Park Ave., Huntington. For more information, call 631-239-1805 or visit www.ripeartgal.com.

Woodbury Road residents have called the thoroughfare unsafe in recent years. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Plans to calm traffic and reduce car crashes on Woodbury Road accelerated on Tuesday.

The Huntington Town Board voted to pay traffic consultants an additional $16,635 to design some of the recommendations they made in a traffic- calming study of the road released earlier this year.

In the study, GEB HiRise, of Uniondale, recommended things like larger and more reflective signs; thicker lane markings; rumble strips in the double yellow lines in the center of the road; reduced speed limits in some areas from 30 to 25 miles per hour; and narrower lanes in some areas.

Residents in the area have been calling for traffic-calming changes, citing a number of crashes along the road.

Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), who has spearheaded the issue, said after the town board meeting on Tuesday that this measure takes traffic calming on Woodbury Road “to the next level.”

The engineering firm will be charged with mapping out where things like rumble strips will go, where to narrow the road and exploring the road-skidding aspect of the issue.

“This is the next step,” Berland said.

Residents vet plan for Eaton’s Neck deer

Some Three Village residents became concerned when they received an advertisement for a deer management program offering its services. File photo

Dozens of residents weighed in at a public hearing on Tuesday on a Huntington Town Board plan that would allow seasonal longbow hunting of deer on Eaton’s Neck.

The proposal would amend the town code to allow longbow hunting during hunting season on private properties on Eaton’s Neck and in unincorporated areas of Asharoken to anyone who has a hunting license issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Nearly 30 people took to the podium at town hall to voice their concerns on the plan.

Those who supported the proposal, which would only apply to private properties, said they wanted the measure in place to regulate what’s become an overpopulation of deer in the neighborhood. The great numbers of deer have given rise to public health, safety and quality of life issues, supporters said.

Opponents called the plan an “inhumane” solution and suggested the town explores other deer management routes and raised questions about whether the hunting method would even be effective in curbing the population.

Among the residents who spoke against longbow hunting included some who have been impacted by tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease, an infectious bacterial disease that if left untreated can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system; and babesiosis, a disease caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells.

Dr. Gary Stone, Huntington Hospital’s chairman of pathology and director of the laboratory, said in an interview on Wednesday that the hospital has treated about 10 to 15 cases of babesiosis in total this year. Those cases are of individuals from the Huntington Town area, he said. The hospital announced in a statement “more are expected,” and said the disease is “prevalent in our area but sometimes goes unnoticed.”

“This has happened before but it doesn’t happen to do this degree this summer,” Stone said. “This summer is definitely worse than the last few summers.”

He said in research he’s carried out on cases at other area hospitals, it seems as though medical centers on the North Shore are experiencing greater numbers of cases of babesiosis.

“I’m thinking there’s a higher percent of ticks here on the North Shore actually have the disease than on the South Shore,” he said.

Doug Whitcomb told Town Board members that the population has exploded to the point where “everybody encounters deer on a daily basis.” He and others pleaded with board members to consider the elevated health risks associated with a large deer population and to allow longbow hunting.

“I am here to represent that the residents of Eaton’s Neck deserve the same opportunity to quality of life as all of the other residents of Huntington have, and deer are causing us unimaginable problems,” Whitcomb said.

Animal advocates, however, took aim at longbow hunting.

“Animals feel pain and experience a full range of emotions — happiness, contentment, fear and dread,” Jeannie Gedeon said. “They are intelligent. …  If you vote to allow deer hunting in the Town of Huntington we might as well go home and shoot our pet dogs and cats with an arrow and go watch them die.”

The uptick in the deer population has led to a rise in car accidents, residents said. They also claim the animals eat their plants.

Residents of the Eaton Harbors Corporation have been working on the issue. The group posted on its website a January meeting with DEC deer biologist Josh Stiller, who provided an overview of the deer population growth issue.

“The problem is going farther and farther west it seems like every year,” he told residents then. … “Deer can multiply really quickly under ideal situations and in a lot of these suburban areas you have an ideal situation for deer.”

In prior interviews, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and Councilman Gene Cook (I) spoke about wanting to see a more humane approach to managing the deer population. In separate interviews after the public hearing, they said they hadn’t decided whether they’d support the measure or not.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) echoed similar sentiments. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) told reporters that he felt something needed to be done and that he’d look into the issue further.

“It is getting out of hand. We have to do something. Are we happy about this alternative with bows and deer running and they’re shot? No. There’s no immediate quick fix,” the supervisor said.

Northport's Austin Henningsen fights for possession at the “X.” file photo

One of Long Island’s top face-off specialists is headed to the University of Maryland this fall.

Austin Henningsen, a recent Northport grad, was stellar at his midfield position all four years of high school, winning 70 percent of his face-offs across that span, according to head coach George Searing.

Searing said the talent his now former player possesses is something he saw from a young age.

“We looked at him in seventh grade because I like to take a look at the young kids in our program,” Searing said, adding that coaches in the middle school told him how good a face-off player Henningsen was, that the summer after his eighth grade year he was asked to join the team for a competition. ”We were in a highly competitive summer tournament and I thought it would be a good experience for him to come with us and see what he was capable of. It was national tournament and he did really good.”

He did so well that other coaches even approached Searing after the tournament to ask questions about his soon-to-be new addition.

“A lot of the coaches asked me what school he was going to next year, and I had to tell them he was only in eighth grade,” he said, laughing. “I think that was a great experience for him and it really showed what capabilities he had.”

He made the varsity team his freshman year, and Searing said Henningsen worked tirelessly to continue to improve his skills, both with his team and with a private face-off specialist. As a result of his training and dedication to honing his skills, the Tigers star continued to rise to the occasion as the competition grew tougher each season.

Austin Henningsen breaks away with the ball for Northport. File photo by Kevin Freheit
Austin Henningsen breaks away with the ball for Northport. File photo by Kevin Freheit

“He does a great job preparing for each lacrosse season and every year he got better,” the head coach said. “He’s an excellent leader for the kids, no matter what his skill level was, but then certainly, his on-field performance in terms of his desire to succeed and how he persevered from injury and continued to work hard just set the bar for everyone else on the team.”

In Henningsen’s first season with the Tigers, the team went 11-7 after falling to No. 1-seeded West Islip in the Suffolk County Class A quarterfinals. His sophomore year, the team took it a step further, and went 15-3 after losing to Smithtown West in the semifinals. The Tigers had a more difficult season in 2014, going 9-9, but made it back to the quarterfinal game, where the team lost to Smithtown East.

According to Searing, Henningsen’s junior year was his best in terms of statistics. The former player won 77 percent of his face-offs, scored 11 goals and three assists, and picked up 240 ground balls. But the head coach thought Henningsen was especially tremendous for the Tigers this past season, where the team made it back to the Class A semifinals, but fell to Ward Melville, 11-10, after going 17-1 up to that game.

“He was a very important player for us this past season,” Searing said of Henningsen, who won 75 percent of his face-offs and tacked on 14 goals and 10 assists while scooping up 184 ground balls. “I think the thing that he learned here at our program is how he has to commit himself and how hard he has to work. His work ethic is tremendous and that’s one of the reasons he is so successful when lacrosse season comes around.”

His commitment to the game earned him national recognition from high-level colleges and universities, but Henningsen ultimately chose to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland.

“I think the thing that really separates him from a lot of people is that he is very driven to succeed, but you wouldn’t know it from his demeanor when you see him off the field — he’s very low key, very humble,” Searing said. “He’s very well-prepared athletically and mentally to get into the season and he’s going to find it to be very challenging at the next level once he gets to college, but I think with the work ethic he acquired, it’s going to allow him to succeed at the next level.”

Maryland put together one of its best seasons in program history in 2015, when head coach John Tillman led the team to a Terrapin single-season record 15 victories and a berth in the NCAA national title game. The team featured the top-ranked scoring defense, and five players earned All-American honors.

Henningsen will be working under Tillman, who joined the program in 2010 after three years at Harvard University and 12 seasons as the top assistant at Navy. The university’s head coach captured his first Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year honor by leading the Terrapins to the 2014 ACC regular season championship and the program’s third Final Four appearance in four seasons.

An All-American this year, just one out of nine in Suffolk County to receive the honor, Henningsen joins a strong Maryland program that his old coach is looking forward to seeing him succeed with.

“He’s been a tremendous player,” Searing said. “He’s been very coachable and a great role model for the younger guys. He’s exactly what you want to see in a student-athlete. I’m looking forward to watching him play once he gets to Maryland and am very confident he will be successful at the next level.”

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