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Safety

Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese

Huntington residents are calling on their elected officials to change the way their Public Safety Department operates.

At a Dec. 8 town board meeting, residents said former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, who is a consultant for the town department, is not necessary as the town’s connection to the 2nd Police Precinct to increase safety and control crime.

The Huntington Town Board hired Varrone as the town liaison to the police department in 2014 and gave a $50,000 budget to his company, Varron Solutions LLC, to provide consulting services and act as the town’s contact with the police, community leaders and social services agencies. The business was also required to assist in restructuring Public Safety to better protect and control crime in the Huntington Station community — the main reason the town hired Varrone.

But residents are saying Varrone isn’t essential to reducing crime.

According to Huntington Matters member Robert Rockelein, Varrone hasn’t been very active in his role to increase safety in the town.

“The Huntington Matters and the Huntington Matters Neighborhood Watch have not seen or heard of any policy, procedure or project initiated or influenced by Dominick Varrone over the last year,” Rockelein said during the meeting, speaking for the two civic groups.

He added that his organization attends meetings regarding safety in Huntington, but he has seen Varrone at only a handful of those meetings.

Other residents said the town doesn’t need Varrone at all.

“I think $50,000 a year for Dominick … we could spend $50,000 somewhere else,” Jim McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident, said during the meeting. “We could spend it on our children, on a drug program or something like that.”

He also said 2nd Precinct Commanding Officer Christopher Hatton is doing a good enough job on his own when it comes to the town’s safety.

The town hired Varrone in November 2014, after a series of murders in Huntington Station and subsequent demands and fears from residents regarding security. Maggie Rosales, one of the victims, was stabbed to death in Huntington Station that October, a few blocks from her home.

Huntington Matters was also born out of that series of incidents, with the goal of facilitating better communication between the government, the community and the police.

Despite resident comments on Dec. 8, Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Varrone works closely with police and other agencies to address safety concerns and crime in the area.

Councilman Eugene Cook (I) was the only board member to vote against extending Varrone’s contract into 2016. He said Varrone’s sparse appearances as the town’s liaison swayed his decision.

“I think Dominick is doing a good job, but he needs the presence,” Cook said in a phone interview. He added that safety within the town is important to him, and he planned to meet with Varrone to discuss improving his presence in the community.

Varrone did not return messages seeking comment.

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Most kids see hoverboards as the next hot toy, but they don’t know how literal that is.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) spoke this week about the dangers of hoverboards shipped from overseas, with batteries that have sometimes burst into flames. He said the type of battery being used in foreign-made hoverboards is unstable if not stored and charged properly.

While this problem seems like the most dangerous reason not to buy a hoverboard this holiday season, there are more concerns shoppers should consider. These boards are serious pieces of machinery. There are hundreds of videos of kids displaying their skills and tricks on hoverboards, as well as many videos of kids wiping out as they try to learn how to maneuver. Everyone who operates a hoverboard should exercise caution with these new devices, for themselves and for those around them.

These machines gain speed quickly and a slight shift in weight can quickly turn into a crash. Parents should consider requiring kids to wear helmets while riding, and should talk about how to use one safely, such as by keeping a certain distance away from pedestrians and staying within certain speeds.

When someone starts the ignition of a car, that person is expected to drive safely, thinking about other drivers and pedestrians on the road. The same should go for anyone on hoverboards, or any other motorized ride.

Congressman Steve Israel speaks on the dangers of hoverboards at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

One of this year’s hot holiday items might be a little too hot.

Hoverboards have been flying off the shelves this holiday season, but recent safety issues, including multiple cases of boards catching fire or exploding, have given some shoppers pause. That’s why U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D) gathered with members of the Commack Fire Department Tuesday and urged consumers against buying hoverboards specifically made in China, because he said the type of batteries used in them may ignite.

“Hoverboards may be the hot holiday gift, but they are literally catching on fire and igniting questions about their safety and the safety of lithium-ion batteries,” Israel said. “New Yorkers should remain hesitant before purchasing these hoverboards and stay vigilant while using and charging them.”

Hoverboards are self-balancing and electronic two-wheeled devices on which people can travel from place to place. When riding one, a person may appear to be levitating, or hovering, similarly to those on the hoverboards featured in the film “Back to the Future II.”

Israel stood beside a photo display of several fires that the Commack department had already responded to where hoverboards caused combustion inside someone’s home, destroying property and, sometimes, entire rooms.

Hoverboards shipped from overseas use lithium ion batteries, which can combust if heated or overcharged due to their limited voltage range. Israel called for more research from the U.S. Department of Energy on the safety of using lithium ion batteries in hoverboards.

The congressman also noted that airports already task their security personnel to remove all lithium ion batteries from checked bags for the same reason.

“Well if we know that those lithium ion batteries could be a hazard to the plane, and we know a hover board with a lithium ion battery could be hazardous to our homes, that says we need to do a little bit more research,” Israel said.

Commack Fire Marshal Joe Digiose flanked the congressman on Tuesday and said he urged residents to be careful when buying hoverboards until more research is completed. He said there is no research that shows the American-made products are not working well, but the ones from overseas pose more of a danger and are being shipped at a very high rate to the United States.

“We recommend you don’t buy them but if you do, buy an American-made one,” he said.

Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Don Talka speaks on research of lithium ion batteries at the Commack Fire Department on Dec. 15. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Don Talka, senior vice president and chief engineer at Underwriters Laboratories has been involved in research on lithium ion batteries for years, starting back when they were involved with similar issues in laptops. He said the major problem is the mating of the battery with the rest of the electronics used in the hoverboards.

“What we’ve learned through our research … is that the combination and how these pieces interact causes the issues,” Talka said. “And how the batteries are charged and discharged are all items which need further investigation.”

At the press conference, Israel inspected the box that a hoverboard came in, and said that despite all the instructions and caution labels about the product, there is nothing to be said about the battery.

“That has been established as one of the single greatest threats to property and potentially lives when they’re coming from China,” Israel said. “That’s why we want to comply with the energy chair to fully research this and make sure that people aren’t being exposed to greater risk and threat by lithium ion batteries.”

A new sidewalk runs along Highlands Boulevard in upper Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

They blazed the path and now they’re going to light the way.

With a new sidewalk already paved along Highlands Boulevard, keeping pedestrians out of the road, Port Jefferson officials are now working on installing streetlights on the route.

A new sidewalk runs along Highlands Boulevard in upper Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz
A new sidewalk runs along Highlands Boulevard in upper Port Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The village board of trustees on Monday approved spending $28,000 for Flushing-based Welsbach Electric Corp. to put in eight decorative streetlight poles and light fixtures along the winding sidewalk, between the entrance to the Highlands condominiums and Oakland Avenue in uptown Port Jefferson.

That dollar figure is higher than an original $17,000 cost approved in August. Mayor Margot Garant explained at Monday’s board meeting that the village needs more lighting than initially expected.

“We had originally contemplated putting three Dickens lanterns in,” she told the trustees, referring to the antique-style streetlights the village uses. But the “village lanterns are not known for their best illumination. So if we were to light [it] properly, it would need one Dickens lantern every 50 feet.”

However, the bumped-up expense, which will come out of the village’s surplus if the public works department budget cannot cover it, does not represent the entire lighting cost for the stretch of sidewalk. That price tag would have been “more than we have in the budget,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said.

Instead the village will put in the eight streetlights, 150 feet apart, according to Garant. “Just to give it some light at this point in time, and then we can fill in as we continue to go.”

The streetlights will use LED bulbs.

The new roughly 0.2-mile sidewalk on Highlands Boulevard has been in the works for a while, with the idea first coming up a few years ago, when residents coordinated an effort to petition the government to preserve the village-owned grassy area along the road. It was discussed as a safety issue because pedestrians had to walk in the street to get from the condos to the uptown business district.

Board members approved a parkland designation for the 6-acre grassy parcel earlier this year, a move that limits the land’s future use or development. Village officials have discussed the possibility of adding benches or walking paths there, but have expressed a desire to keep the park’s use passive.

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By Bill Landon

It wasn’t like the Newfield football team to trail in a game, but like the first and only other time they found themselves behind this season, it didn’t last.

Both times were against the Colts of Half Hollow Hills West. The first time was when the two teams faced off in September, when the Wolverines went on to outscore their opponent, 41-13. But this time, the teams were on a bigger stage — the Suffolk County Division II championship. Continuing its quest for a perfect season, Newfield propelled past a 20-18 deficit late in the second quarter to help the team claim its second county title since 2011, with a 58-34 victory at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium Friday night.

“From the beginning of the season you work as hard as you can to get here,” Newfield senior Austin Gubelman said. “It’s a surreal feeling, it really is.”

Gubelman, a tight end, scored first on a short run, and after a failed two-point conversion attempt, Hills West cut the Wolverines’ lead in half with a field goal. Newfield senior Elijah Riley, a wide receiver who has been a one-man wrecking machine this postseason with eight touchdowns in the last three games, scored his first of four touchdowns off a handoff he took more than 50 yards for the 12-3 advantage, after another failed two-point conversion attempt, to end the scoring in the first.

The two teams totaled 952 yards, with 516 coming from Newfield. Riley alone finished the game with 146 yards on 11 carries.

With junior Justin Ottenwalder catching a pass up the middle and carrying it 71 yards for a touchdown run, the halfback, who caught three passes for 154 yards and gained 62 yards on eight carries, helped the Wolverines remain in front. But the Colts responded with another field goal and an interception on a screen pass that was returned for a touchdown. With the extra-point attempt successful, Newfield’s opponent took a 20-18 lead with 1:51 left in the half.

Just like in that September matchup, the Wolverines wouldn’t stay behind for long.

With 20 seconds on the clock, Riley took matters into his own hands. He took a handoff up the middle and found nothing. Bouncing off the wall of defenders, the senior looked for an open hole on his first, second and third attempts before cutting to the outside and finding the corner of the end zone from four yards out to put his team out in front, 24-10. From there, the Wolverines never looked back.

Hills West was on the move to start the second half, but a deep throw to a wide receiver was snatched by Newfield senior safety Denzel Williams. From the 18-yard line, Williams returned the interception up field to the 31-yard line. He finished with 108 yards on nine carries.

Newfield senior Ryan Klemm, the team’s quarterback, dumped a screen pass off to Ottenwalder, who jetted down the left sideline, covering 69 yards for the score. With the extra-point attempt by senior kicker Jacob VanEssendelft successful, the Wolverines extended their lead to 31-20 with 7:22 left in the third.

Klemm said he knew his team had the ability to bounce back, and the Wolverines refocused their efforts after a losing record at the end of last year.

“We knew we had a really talented team and we worked very hard in the offseason,” the quarterback said. “It’s surreal right now. It’s an awesome feeling, and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”

The Colts fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, and Newfield junior Jesse McKeever scooped it up and took off for the end zone. The cornerback was stopped just shy of the goal line, and the Wolverines offensive unit went back to work. Gubelman got the call and plowed his way up the middle for his second touchdown in the game. With a missed point-after attempt, the tight end put his team out front, 37-20.

With just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Half Hollow Hills West quarterback Anthony Lucarelli found the end zone on a keeper and, with the point after, the Colts closed the gap a bit.

On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Newfield called on Williams, the Middle Country sprinter, who dashed 64 yards across the field, leading blockers all the way to the end zone. With the kick from VanEssendelft good, Newfield jumped out to a 44-27 advantage.

And after a Hills West three-and-out, Newfield struck again.

With just over a minute left in the third quarter, Riley eluded three tacklers and covered 46 yards for six points. VanEssendelft’s kick split the uprights to blow the game open, 51-27.

Hills West went to the air the rest of the way, and tried to force long passes to make up for lost time. Lucarelli went deep to his wide receiver, who appeared to make the catch but bobbled the ball. Just as deadly defensively at cornerback as he is on offense as a wide receiver, Riley snatched the ball out of the Colts player’s hands for the interception with just over three minutes left in the contest.

The dominant and forceful senior finished the turnover he created with a short plunge into the end zone for his final touchdown of the game. Along with VanEssendelft’s kick, Riley’s score increased his team’s lead to 58-27.

Newfield head coach Joe Piccininni rested his starters on both sides of the ball the rest of the way, and Hills West made the most of the change by scoring one final touchdown.

“Our mistakes were hurting us and we faced a lot of adversity, but we were able to come back tonight,” Piccininni said. “We faced a great football team tonight — they didn’t fall back and they didn’t falter.”

With that, the team was crowned Suffolk County champions, and Newfield will take its undefeated season to the gridiron of Hofstra University on Friday, for a 4:30 p.m. kick off against MacArthur in the Long Island championship game. Although this year looked uncertain after the Wolverines’ 3-6 season last year, Gubelman said he thought his team could do it all along.

“I’ve known my teammates my whole life — we’ve been playing together since we were 5 years old,” he said. “We practice hard the same way we always do, come out with one vision: [to win the] Long Island Championship.”

A fireball erupts during a demonstration on the dangers of deep-frying a turkey in hot oil. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town officials held a fiery presentation on Nov. 20 to demonstrate the dangers of deep-frying a turkey in hot oil.

According to a press release from the town, the trend is a growing one that is responsible for several deaths and dozens of injuries every year.

The hot oil can splash or spill, causing severe burns.

“The fireball that we saw during the demonstration clearly showed how the improper use of turkey fryers can lead to personal injury and the destruction of property,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “I hope that people who use deep fryers follow all the manufacturer’s safety instructions and keep a fire extinguisher handy.”

Romaine and the town’s chief fire marshal, Chris Mehrman, held the demonstration on the Friday ahead of Thanksgiving.

The supervisor also announced that this holiday season the town would accept waste oil, which is used to create biodiesel fuel, at the town landfill on Horseblock Road in Brookhaven hamlet.

Last year, the town accepted more than 350 gallons of used cooking oil after Thanksgiving, according to the press release.

The landfill is open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday, from 7 a.m. to noon.

For Thanksgiving fire safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org.

Jack Blaum speaks at a Three Village board of education meeting. File photo

In the years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — a horror further punctuated by recent college shootings — safety continues to be a top priority for Three Village school officials.

Security & Safety coordinator Jack Blaum detailed the district’s efforts at a recent school board meeting. The past year has seen the installation of vestibules in school lobbies, card key entryways, emergency training for staff and safety drills with students during school hours.

Blaum said an analysis of the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon reveals that such tragedies have three things in common: motive, means and opportunity.

“The one thing we have total control over is opportunity,” Blaum said, last Wednesday. “The opportunity is keeping our buildings closed when we’re in session.”

That is ensured by posting additional full-day security officers at each elementary school, as well as an additional full-day and half-day officer at the junior highs, he said. Security guards are also posted at each entrance to the high school.

The security staff — which is made up of either active or retired law enforcement personnel — checks visitors who must enter an enclosed vestibule before entering a building. Greeters are responsible for late arrivals, early dismissals and helping visitors once they’ve been allowed to enter.

Blaum said that he and his team would begin to train district staff to use the CrisisManager app, which holds the district’s protocol for dealing with different crises. The app offers the advantage of being easier to reference during a real crisis than a paper flow chart, Blaum explained. Parents and students can also download the free app.

In other details, Blaum said the district is constructing a “command center,” with 11 video monitors at the back of the North Country Administration Building. He said the center would make it easier for the superintendent to monitor incidents remotely and help with any investigations.

Across the district, emergency phones — “bat phones,” according to Blaum — connect directly to the Suffolk County police communications supervisor in Yaphank.

“Lockdown buttons,” located throughout each building, will trigger an automated lockdown message, disable key card access to all but emergency personnel and set off sirens and a blue strobe light to alert those outside the building that the school is on lockdown.

Besides the additional cameras installed throughout the district, including the Ward Melville High School football field, there is also a law enforcement presence on weekends and holidays, Blaum said.

Though the district’s advantage is in controlling opportunity, Blaum emphasized the importance of recognizing and reporting changes in student or staff behavior. He reminded the community to use the Safe School Helpline to report safety concerns.

“If you take out one part of motive, means and opportunity, the shooting can’t happen,” he said.

As mandated by the State Education Department, building emergency plans and layouts have been filed with New York State police and distributed to Suffolk County police and the Setauket and Stony Brook Fire Departments.

Buses for all

In another move aimed at student safety, the district will provide busing for everyone. Currently, Three Village provides busing for all elementary school students, but not for junior high students who live less than a mile from school or high schoolers less than a mile and a half away.

“It is the single biggest complaint,” assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said.

He pointed specifically to the danger posed to students crossing Nicolls Road to get to R.C. Murphy Junior High School. He also mentioned those who have to walk along Christian Avenue, Quaker Path or Mudd Road — which have no sidewalks— to P.J. Gelinas Junior High School. There is also an issue of safety for high school students walking along Sheep Pasture Road, he said.

The three additional buses would cost $220,000, but transportation aid from the state would be around $100,000, he said. With more state aid to further lower the cost, the increase to the tax levy would be around $10,000, Carlson said.

Residents must vote on an amendment to the busing guidelines in a proposition that is separate from the budget.

The school board unanimously voted to add the proposition to the May ballots.

“That’s our duty, our obligation to keep all our students safe,” said board trustee Jeff Kerman, who seemed to sum up the sentiments of his colleagues.

Test results show grounds are sound

David Badanes speaks at a Northport-East Northport school board meeting. File Photo by Eric Santiago

By Eric Santiago

The soil at Norwood Avenue Elementary School is safe for children, an environmental engineer told the Northport-East Northport school board last week.

“I would expect concentrations in my own backyard would be very similar to what we found on the school property,” said Paul Lageraaen, the environmental services department manager for H2M architects + engineers.

Last month, the school board tasked Lageraaen’s firm with analyzing the school grounds to determine if the area had been contaminated with hazardous chemicals out of “an abundance of caution, and in response to low levels of contaminants found in the soil of a neighboring farming property proposed to be developed into a winery,” according to a statement from Superintendent Robert Banzer. Dust from a property that is proposed to be developed into a vineyard next to the school may have fallen on school grounds while the land was being cleared out, officials said. Lageraaen presented the firm’s findings at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

Of the dozens of herbicides, metals and pesticides tested, only one was discovered at noteworthy concentrations. Arsenic, a common ingredient in pesticides before it was banned in 1991, was found at moderate levels in the northwest corner of the school. The proposed vineyard property is along the school’s eastern border.

This was not a great concern to Lageraaen.

H2M tested its soil samples against New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation Regulations Part 375. According to these regulations, residential areas should have a maximum arsenic concentration of 16 parts per million (PPM). The sample from that corner of the school was analyzed at 17 PPM. This was one of 16 samples taken from across the school grounds. The rest all tested below this level.

Lageraaen pointed out that regulations are not an actual limit.

“It’s defined as an objective,” he said. “It’s not a hard and fast action level.” This is because there isn’t a definitive consensus for what that level should be. For example, New Jersey regulations say that 19 PPM should be the maximum concentration for residential areas.

But the key finding Lageraaen cited was that were was no sign that soil around the school had been moved, disturbed or contaminated by a dangerous chemical.

“The soils that are at Norwood school are the same soils that have been there for 60 years,” he said. “If I found an area where suddenly arsenic or some other compound was at 100 PPM and everything else was at 15 PPM, then you have to be concerned.”

Once the presentation was finished, David Badanes, vice president of the school board, asked the central question for the board.

“I guess the bottom line question is this: Are the children that are going to play at Norwood safe?”

“Yes,” said Lageraaen, who also coaches community soccer at the Northport fields. “I have no qualms about returning there to coach or my kids playing on those fields.”

In closing out the discussion, board President Andrew Rapiejko said that the board has been in contact with the town about the proposed vineyard, and encouraged concerned community members to do the same.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Fred Giachetti, who owns the property and wants to develop it into a vineyard, stressed that he has contacted local officials and experts to ensure the property is managed responsibly.

“I have never been irresponsible and reckless in my whole life,” he said. “I’m a graduate of Northport High School. My wife and I have been trying to do something that is bringing back the agrarian traditions of our community because we have a great interest in it and a family history. We think it’s a wonderful idea — instead of building more McMansions or condos or townhomes, we could try and bring something back to the community that we’ve lost.”

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.

The two-part boating safety course is at the Setauket Fire Department station on Nicolls Road, on April 14-15. File photo

Suffolk County residents can take a free boater safety course next week, to meet a new New York State requirement for operating motorboats.

All people born on or after May 1, 1996, must take an approved boater education course to operate such a vessel. The course, which will be held on April 14-15, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Setauket firehouse substation on Nicolls Road, is free. However, the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation charges a $10 fee for a boating safety certificate after training is completed.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is sponsoring the two-day boating safety course.

Advance registration is required for the two four-hour sessions, and participants must attend both of the sessions to receive credit.

Call Hahn’s office at 854-1650 to reserve a spot.

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