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Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different smells, like various plants, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Guide Dog Foundation puppies were tested for their obedience at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13.

Dogs aged 4-to-11 months were invited to the garden, designed to stimulate children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to acclimate the animals to a place they may soon be visiting with new owners.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different sounds, like drums, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

Human guests of the garden can test their hearing by playing one of the giant instruments or smell the vertical hanging herbs like basil and mint.

The Smithtown-based nonprofit’s nine four-legged members did the same, as they became familiar with strange sounds, textures and smells and walked over pavers, asphalt, rocks, dirt, grass and puddles in the garden’s splash pad.

“We are here today to be able to give back to the community — to give our puppy raisers the opportunity to have their dogs experience all these different sights, sounds, smells and distractions,” said Jordan Biscardi, a puppy adviser in charge of the volunteer dog raisers who guided the event.

He tested each puppy on how well it could remain seated between its raiser’s legs under a table, seamlessly walk past another dog and react to its raiser with a “paw” shake.

“When you go out in the real world with a guide dog, they are going to come across everything,” Biscardi said, adding the owners raise the dogs from 8 weeks to between 1 and 2 years old.

This is the sensory garden’s second season, and the first time hosting the Smithtown-based Guide Dog Foundation.

A trainer walks her dog around Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“It’s designed for the purpose of stimulating the senses,” said Leeana Costa, director of development of the nonprofit AHRC Suffolk. “We have some residential services here that we have for the individuals that we support, and this space is designed to be available to them and to their families — anyone in the community — and that way it is an integrated space, which is something that’s important to AHRC Suffolk.”

Residents of the campus Monica Marie Antonawich, Chrissy Koppel and Pam Siems enjoyed watching the
puppies, learning about the Guide Dog Foundation and later getting the chance to interact with them. They said they are big animal lovers and as members of AHRC Suffolk’s self-advocacy group, recently collected food, blankets and beds for the animals at the Smithtown Animal Shelter.

“I thought it was wonderful, I really did,” Siems said of the event. “I’ve had dogs all my life and I would love to take one home — I love them. We wanted to help the animals this year. We collected dog bones and some things for the cats, too, and we want to continue doing this for the summer.”

Inviting the Guide Dog Foundation felt like a natural tie-in, Costa said. It was an educational, interactive and engaging experience for everyone.

“We serve a different population of individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We thought that this would be a nice partnership between both organizations, so that we could build awareness for the great work that each organization is doing — and everybody loves puppies. It was a successful and productive partnership for all.”

Meet the Class of 2018's valedictorians, salutatorians and honor speakers in Smithtown

Commack High School's Class of 2018 throws their caps skyward in celebration. Photo by Karen Forman

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Smithtown, hundreds of graduates stepped forward to receive their high school diplomas last week. Among the graduates are those who have excelled academically, achieving consistently high marks to rise top of their class to earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian. 

Commack High School Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo. Photo by Karen Forman.

Commack High School

Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo

GPA: 105.12 (weighted)

College: Harvard University

Major: Economics

Ciurleo served as president of the National Honor Society, a captain of the varsity boys golf team and was a member of both the Boys Scholar Athletic Leadership Club and Italian Honor Society.

 

 

Kings Park High School Valedictorian Lina Rohrer. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Valedictorian: Lina Rohrer

GPA: 106.04 (weighted)

College: Not disclosed

Major: Physics

Rohrer plans on continuing her education by studying physics.

 

 

 

Kings Park High School Salutatorian Keiffer Acoba. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Salutatorian: Keiffer Acoba

GPA: 105.01

College: Carnegie Mellon

Major: Computer Science

Acoba was named among the Top 300 Scholars in Regeneron’s Science Talent Search, a Coca-Cola Scholar finalist, and a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Regional finalist. He was vice president of the Independent Science Research, co-captain of the math team,  head programmer of the robotics team and president of Science Olympiads.

 

Smithtown High School East honor speaker Matthew Timmel. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School East

Honor speaker: Matthew Timmel

GPA: 4.13

College: Florida State University

Major: Business finance, computer  science

Timmel served as president of DECA, senior leader of RYLA, a member of the National Honor Society and played on the varsity boys badminton team.

 

 

 

Smithtown High School West Honor Speaker Kevin Camson. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School West

Honor Speaker: Kevin Camson

GPA: 4.08

College: University of Notre Dame

Major: Political Science

Camson served as student liaison to Smithotwn’s board of education; founder and president of Student Pipeline; member of the teen council for the Robin Hood Foundation; founder and leader of Project Smith-Stead; founder of Tables to Enable; a member of the School Start Time Steering Committe; and on track and field.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County police arrested three people yesterday for allegedly selling e-liquid nicotine to minors at businesses located in the Town of Smithtown.

In response to community complaints, 4th Precinct Crime Section officers conducted an investigation into the sale of e-liquid nicotine to minors at 12 businesses June 27.

The following persons at local businesses allegedly did not comply with the law:

  • Ahmed Chattha, 45, of Smithtown, employed at 50% Off Cards at 975 West Jericho Turnpike in Commack was arrested and charged with second-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.
  • Malik McFadden, 27, of Middle Island, employed at Long Island Artisan Wine and Spirits at 1171 Jericho Turnpike in Commack was arrested and charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.
  • Steven Bannon, 62, employed at Grape Culture Wines and Liquors at 248 Lake Ave. in St. James was arrested and charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.

The following businesses complied, and refused the sale of e-liquid nicotine to minors:

  • Cards Gifts & Lotto at 22 Motor Parkway in Commack
  • Vanderbilt Fine Wines & Spirits at 42 Motor Parkway in Commack
  • Long Island Cork & Bottle at 213 Commack Road in Commack
  • Card Smart at 18 Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack
  • Commack Beverages at 2055 Jericho Turnpike in Commack
  • Wine & Liquor at 214 Jericho Turnpike in Commack
  • Northgate Cards at 1139 Jericho Turnpike in Commack
  • Food Beer & Smoke Shop at 863 West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown
  • Shell Gas at 1331 Motor Parkway in Hauppauge

The three people arrested were issued field appearance tickets and are scheduled to be arraigned at 1st District Court in Central Islip on a later date.

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown officials and animal advocates are purring over a new addition to the town animal shelter that will help mitigate the local feral cat issue.

The Town of  Smithtown Animal Shelter has received a New York State grant that it plans to use to build a new trap, neuter and release building on Middle Country Road. The TNR building will be separate from the main shelter in an effort to keep feral cats, also known as community cats, which may have fleas or spread infection or disease to the other animals, privately sequestered.

“The isolation is important because some of these cats are going to be sick, they’re going to have fleas — this actually separates these [community cats] from our current cats in the building that are up for adoption,” said Denise Vival, a town animal control officer.

This grant will help us to keep our adoptable pets healthy while humanely and effectively controlling the free-roaming cat population through our spay, neuter and release program.”

— Lisa Inzerillo

Town officials voted to accept the $168,750 grant at their June 12 board meeting. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project.

Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the town is already soliciting contractor bids for the design and construction of the TNR building. The state grant funds will become available in early 2019 and the town hopes to begin construction immediately, according to Garguilo.

“This grant will help us to keep our adoptable pets healthy while humanely and effectively controlling the free-roaming cat population through our spay, neuter and release program,” Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said.

The nonprofit American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ website advises shelters to have a TNR program to deal with feral cats, or cats that have adapted to living in small communities in the wild rather than indoors. A TNR program helps stabilize cat populations as well as prevent the spread of disease, according to the ASPCA’s website.

Vival estimates the Town of Smithtown has approximately 30 to 40 different colonies of community cats, each of which contains anywhere from 10 to 30 cats of different breeds. Without programs such as TNR, cat populations can quickly get out of control.

“We have around 80 cats in foster [care] right now, and if you release them on the street and you don’t spay and neuter them, 80 turns into a ridiculous amount,” said Kathy Giglio, a kennel attendant at the shelter.

These grants were awarded to shelters specifically that have made strides to improve the treatment, training and medical care of all our animal guests.”

— John Valentine

Vival said the town’s current TNR program, which operates behind a closed door in the back of the shelter, has six cages that each house two to three cats at a time. The shelter has a waiting list of two to three weeks before they will be able to trap and neuter different cat colonies across the town. The wait time is a problem because cats could become pregnant or give birth in that time, according to Vival. With the new building, the shelter would be able to quadruple the number of cats it can hold.

Animal rights advocate Diane Madden from the protest group Hope for Hempstead Shelter said the creation of a TNR building in the Smithtown sets up a service other government-run shelters lack.

“I wish that every town would put together a program such as this because that’s how overwhelming the amount of cats there are out there,“ Madden said. “TNR is the best, most humane way to deal with the community cat problem.”

The grant is part of a $5 million fund created by New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) that gave out awards to 14 animal shelters and humane societies across New York State. The grant is funded by the state’s 2018  budget.

“These grants were awarded to shelters specifically that have made strides to improve the treatment, training and medical care of all our animal guests,” Chief John Valentine, director of Smithtown’s public safety department said. “Building a TNR structure will give strays and rescued animals a state-of-the-art facility to comfortably isolate and medically assess them for adoption and spay/neuter release programs.”

The new building will be installed on the south side of the property, behind the main facility and east of the office trailer the shelter installed in 2017.

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown volunteers hopped to saving nearly 30 domestic rabbits that were left alone and abandoned in a tick and poison ivy infected stretch of forest last week in Ronkonkoma.

Smithtown-based nonprofit Guardians of Rescue received a tip about the illegally released rabbits and reached out to local animal rescue groups for help. Volunteers spent close to two full days overall, May 27 and 28, capturing 27 rabbits that had been marooned in a forest near the Ronkonkoma train station commuter parking lot. One was found dead in the forest and another died while receiving care.

“These particular rabbit breeds were not suited for the wild,” Robert Misseri, the president of Guardians of Rescue said. “There is no telling how long they would have lasted, but it would have not been long.”

After Misseri got a tip from a local feral cat rescuer, he said he put the call out to several local animal rescue groups including the Sound Beach-based nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League.

Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves.”

– Frankie Floridia

The first rabbit that Erica Kutzing, vice president for the Strong Island rescue group, saw when she arrived at the forest was larger than any wild rabbit should have been. It was a Flemish Giant, a huge breed of rabbit known for being extremely calm around humans. Kutzing got down to its level and laid out rabbit feed in a line and the rabbit loped toward her. From behind her, Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island rescue, flashed out with a net and caught the rabbit. Kutzing held it as she brought it back to their car. It was nearly as big as a small dog.

“Whoever abandoned those rabbits should be ashamed of themselves,” Floridia said. “They were giving those rabbits a death sentence.

Many of the rabbits found were of different breeds including Lionheads and Flemish Giants. Some had obviously interbred with each other, which makes the rescue groups believe all these animals were held together in only a few small cages.

“Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds,” Kutzing said. “It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

Misseri said he suspects the person who abandoned the rabbits might have been breeding them.

Black ones, white ones, gray, brown, there were all different kinds. It was like shopping at Macy’s, you could get any color you wanted.”

– Erica Kutzing

Many of the animals were sick with pneumonia. Others were injured by the cage they were kept in and the rabbits they were caged with, according to Misseri. Several had cysts on their skin and many were suffering from malnourishment. The first rabbit Strong Island rescue captured is currently being nursed back to health, and they have named it André the Giant after the famous French wrestler and actor.

“Once we caught him we were running through the woods, it was just net after net after net,” Kutzing said. “And you have to be careful picking these guys up because if they kick strong enough they’ll break their backs, if they get too frightened they can have a heart attack. They have paper-thin skin so if you handle them wrong you can tear the skin.”

The rescued rabbits have been sent out to multiple animal rescue operations in the surrounding area. Six were taken in by Guardians of Rescue, but all those have already been fostered out. Several more were taken in by Long Island Orchestrating for Nature from Malverne, the Connecticut-based Hopalong Hollow Rabbit Rescue and Queens-based All About Rabbits Rescue.

The Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has put out a $3,500 reward for a person who leads them and authorities to the person who abandoned the animals. Several local animal rescue groups donated money toward that reward, namely Guardians of Rescue, Strong Island Animal Rescue League and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature who  put up $500 each, while the SPCA and All About Rabbits Rescue put up $1,000 each.

This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County.”

– Vivian Barna

“We at the SPCA take this very seriously, especially in cases of abandonment like this,” Suffolk SPCA President Roy Gross said. “This is a case of abandonment and animal cruelty, and so the person or persons involved in this are up for criminal charges. All that person had to do was to pick up a phone, call any of these organizations and we would have found a home for them, but instead he abandoned them.”

Vivian Barna, who runs All About Rabbits Rescue, took in six of the rabbits, and said that rabbit abandonment on Long Island, especially in Suffolk, is endemic.

“This is a sad, pervasive problem in Suffolk County,” Barna said. “This is about our fourth or fifth recent rescue. We had rescued 25 in Bohemia back in December 2016, another set in Northport not too long ago. These rabbits were just deprived. They had illnesses including upper respiratory problems, intestinal parasites, and these six rabbits are costing us close to $2,500 to give them that care.”

Gross said there have been instances of rabbit abandonment recently not too far from where the rabbits were dumped in Ronkonkoma.

“We had a case just recently of other rabbits dumped in Lake Ronkonkoma,” Gross said. “This may possibly be the same person, but there’s no way right now to be sure.”

All rescue groups mentioned in the story said that if people were interested in fostering the rabbits or wished to donate to call to call and inquire. People inquiring about the rescued rabbits can call the
Guardians of Rescue at 888-287-3864.

The SPCA said that any tips about the person who abandoned the rabbits can be sent to their phone number 631-382-7722. All calls will be anonymous.

Annual enrollment numbers of 2012-13 school year compared to 2016-17. Graphic by TBR News Media

By Kyle Barr

A shadow hangs above the heads of Long Island’s school districts: The specter of declining enrollment.

“From last year, not a whole lot has changed, enrollment is still declining,” Barbara Graziano, the manager of the Office of School Planning and Research for Western Suffolk BOCES said. “What a lot of districts are seeing is there is a significant displacement between their graduating classes being larger than the following year’s kindergarten classes.”

School enrollment across Suffolk County has been in decline for nearly a decade. In last year’s annual report on enrollment, Western Suffolk BOCES, a regional educational service agency, said there was a 9.1 percent overall decline in enrollment in townships from Huntington to Smithtown from 2010 to 2016.

Students at Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center hop off the school bus. Photo from Middle Country school district

Between the 2006-07 and 2016-17 school years, Long Island saw a 6.2 percent decline in enrollment, according to Robert Lowry, the deputy director for advocacy, research and communications at the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Statewide enrollment declined 4.2 percent in the same period. Nearly every school district on Suffolk County’s North Shore has seen at least some decline, and the trend can have tangible effects on a district’s long- and short-term planning.

“Declining enrollment may push a district toward reconsidering staffing and whether it’s necessary to close a school,” Lowry said.

Smithtown Central School District in the 2012-13 school year had 10,317 students enrolled in the district, and four years later the number dropped more than a thousand to 9,241 in 2016-17. The declining enrollment was cited in 2012, with guidance from the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Instruction and Housing, as the rationale behind the closing of Nesconset Elementary School, and again in 2017 when the district closed Brook Branch Elementary School.

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment,” Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane said in an email. “The district
will continue to monitor its enrollment trends to plan for the future.”

“Over the last few years, the board of education and administration have been proactive regarding the district’s declining enrollment.”

— James Grossane

Experts cite factors like declining birthrate, aging population and changes in local immigration patterns as potentially having an impact on local enrollment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in May indicating the national birthrate in 2017 hit a 30-year low with 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. The national birthrate has been in general decline since the 1960s, but this most recent report is low even compared to 10 years ago when the birthrate was closer to 70 births per 1,000 women. Suffolk County’s population is also skewing older. Census data from the American Community Survey showed from 2010 to 2016 there was an estimated 28,288 less school-aged children between the ages of 5 and 19 living in the county. School closings are probably the most severe action districts tend to take to mitigate the effect of declining enrollment, but it is not the only option.

The Three Village Central School District has seen enrollment drop by about 900 students during the last decade. In its recently passed budget the district said it was making several staffing changes, including consolidating the roles of certain staff members. The district cited declining enrollment along with staff retirements and attrition for the changes, but also promised to add a new high school guidance counselor and an additional district psychologist to give attention to individual student’s mental health.

“While our district, like so many others in our area, have recently been experiencing a decline in enrollment, particularly at the elementary level, we have taken this opportunity to create efficiencies using current staff in order to lower class size and support a number of new initiatives, programmatic enhancements and student support services,” Cheryl Pedisich, the superintendent for Three Village schools said in an email.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid.”

— Al Marlin

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said lower enrollment allows for smaller class sizes and for more attention to the mental health of individual students.

“Our students today need a little bit more mental health support than students yesterday,” Eagen said. “Obviously we don’t need as many elementary sections, but we haven’t necessarily decreased our total staffing amount because we’ve been increasing our mental health supports.”

Even with those potential benefits, many districts are still trying to work out the long-term implications of lower enrollment. Al Marlin, a spokesperson for the New York State School Boards Association said enrollment has a large effect on how much state aid a school can procure.

“Declining enrollment affects school districts in several ways — perhaps most importantly through the impact on state aid because New York’s school-aid distribution formula is based, in part, on enrollment numbers,” Marlin said in an email. “Declining enrollment also can make it more difficult for districts to sustain academic courses, including Advanced Placement courses and programs such as sports teams.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district conducted an enrollment study in 2015 that was updated for the 2017-18 school year. The study predicted the district will recede to 1,650 enrolled students by 2025, compared to 2,170 as of May. Along with a declining birthrate and an aging population, the district pointed to low housing turnover from 2008 to 2016 for part of the declining enrollment.

As part of an ongoing Shoreham-Wading River bond referendum voted on in 2015, school classrooms, like those at Principal Christine Carlson’s Miller Avenue School, were expanded to include bathrooms. File photo by Kyle Barr

“It is difficult to predict the exact number, but it is fair to say that the enrollment decline in the district will be continuing in the near future,” SWR superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email.

Superintendents from SWR and Rocky Point school district both said they do not have any plans to close schools, but there is a possibility lower enrollment could affect the districts’ ability to apply for grants.

A few districts are breaking the trend. Huntington Union Free School District has actually seen an increase in school enrollment from 2012 to 2017, but Superintendent James Polansky said in the most recent years that increase has started to level off. Polansky did not want to speculate as to why enrollment in Huntington was not decreasing like other districts, but Graziano said it might be because the district is more diverse and attracts more immigration than nearby districts.

“Every district is different, they have to look at their own schools and communities to see how they deal with enrollment,” Polansky said.

Every year Western Suffolk BOCES releases a report that looks at schools’ current enrollment and compares it to previous years. Graziano, who is working on this year’s report, most likely to be released sometime this month, said the agency expects a continuing decline in school enrollment at least for the next several years. Though eventually, she said, the declining enrollment should level off as entering kindergarten class sizes stabilize. However, there is no telling when that might be. 

“Birthrates do not seem to be increasing, it doesn’t look like, as of right now, that’s going to turn around any time soon,” Graziano said. “But of course, we don’t have a crystal ball.”

Jovani Ligurgo, on left, who was reported missing by his mother, was last seen with his father John Ligurgo III, on right. Photos from SCPD

Jovani Ligurgo’s mother dropped off her 2-year-old boy at his father’s residence on Brettonwoods Drive in Coram at around 7 a.m. on June 5. When the child, who lives with his mother in Smithtown, was not returned to her at a predetermined time, 3:30 to 4 p.m., she called police. Meanwhile, officers responded to a call of a house fire at approximately 3:35 p.m. where the father, John Ligurgo III, 43, lived. The residence was unoccupied.

Sixth Squad detectives believed the child was with his father, who might have fled the state in a black Jeep Grand Cherokee, New York license plate GAV 4699, with Ligurgo III possibly in possession of a hunting rifle.

A similar vehicle bearing New York license plate GAV 4699 was found June 6 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, with two deceased occupants who are believed to be the pair. A positive identification is pending.

File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh 

A Smithtown contractor has pled guilty to scamming Hurricane Sandy victims out of more than $100,000, according to the Nassau County district attorney’s office.

Lee Moser, 49, pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny, a class D felony, and first-degree scheme to defraud, a class E felony, June 1 in Nassau County Supreme Court before Justice Robert Bogle.

“Superstorm Sandy savaged our communities, and contractors who defraud those who suffered from the storm’s wrath are especially despicable,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a press statement. “This unscrupulous defendant took his victims’ money to help them rebuild, regaled them with excuses for delay and never performed the work.”

Lee Moser. Photo from Nassau County district attorney’s office

From April 2015 to August 2016, Moser signed contracts with five Nassau County homeowners to perform work on their homes that have been severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, according to Singas. In most of these cases, the defendants wrote Moser a down payment check for the work, using funds from New York Rising, made payable to his business Capstone Remodeling.

New York Rising is the state-run program that assists homeowners impacted by natural disasters. The homeowners had applied for and received money from New York Rising to rehabilitate their homes after they were damaged by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm.

Instead of performing the contracted work, Moser repeatedly provided excuses as to why his business had not started, such as he was in the hospital or caring for his sick mother, according to prosecutors. In total, Singas said he is suspected of stealing $113,485 from Nassau homeowners. Moser allegedly spent these funds on gasoline, dining at restaurants, telephone services and other expenditures to continue running his construction business that were unrelated to the homeowners’ contracts, according to the district attorney’s office.

The Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs received five complaints from victims of Capstone Remodeling between June 2016 and April 2017, which were forwarded to the district attorney’s office. An investigation immediately commenced.

To date, the district attorney said that Moser is currently an unlicensed contractor and has not attempted to repay any of the homeowners.

Moser is due back in court July 12, where he is expected to be sentenced to 45 days in jail and five years of probation, if he pays $50,000 in restitution to New York Rising and pays the remaining amount while on probation. If he does not pay restitution, he would be sentenced to one year in jail, according to the district attorney’s office.

Runners take off at the 2017 Breathe for Britt 5K. Photo from Megan Scheidt

Smithtown runners are preparing to take big strides and breathe deep to support a local nonprofit that helps people suffering from cystic fibrosis.

The Breathe for Britt Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting people suffering from cystic fibrosis and their families, will be hosting its 4th annual Breathe for Britt 5K run/walk June 2 at the Smithtown Elementary School. The funds raised from the race will be used to support the foundation in its efforts to help those diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and their families.

“This race lets people become aware of what CF is and what the foundation has to offer to them and those with CF who might not know this is offered to them,” Louise Nichols, the co-race director for the Breathe for Britt foundation, said.

Started in 2015, the race has grown to have 150 runners last year of all ages. Laura Bence, director of the Breathe for Britt Foundation, said she expects a similar number of people to attend this year’s event.

Brittney Braun. Photo from Breathe 4 Britt Foundation

The foundation runs multiple programs to emotionally and financially support those suffering from cystic fibrosis and their families. The organization has bought groceries, laptops and even paid the electric bills for
affected families who could not afford it. Bence and her organization has also helped patients make doctors’ appointments and taken them to the hospital when they had no other means.

The nonprofit also provides opportunities such as doing salon work for the patients in their hospital beds and even larger events like Gimme-a-Break! Day, when every month a different patient from the Cystic Fibrosis Center of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park is brought on a day out to a concert, amusement park, sporting event and more.

“Some of our patients can be in hospitals for months at a time, and it can be so difficult to feel normal,” Katherine Henthorne, a cystic fibrosis social worker at Cohen’s Medical Center and Long Island Jewish Medical Center said. “It’s just so important for their quality of life. Some of our patients are affluent, they are wealthy and they have things, and other families don’t. They have to make them feel like normal people.”

The foundation is named after Brittney Braun, a young woman with who died from complications  of cystic fibrosis at the age of 14. Those who remember her know that she had a knack for putting life into perspective.

“She had a lot of spunk, a lot of personality, even if she went through a lot,” Bence said. “She was the type of person that you had to earn her love and respect, but once you did she was amazing. She had such a big impact on my life in the years that I knew her.”

Kings Park resident Brian Kane, who volunteered at Stony Brook University’s Children Hospital and became Brittney’s godfather, helped to found the organization along with Bence. He passed away in 2012.

Bence said she remembered how shortly after Brittney’s death Kane gathered her and others who knew Brittney so they could focus their loss into something positive.

[Brittney’s] story was very sad, but to have this in memory of her, it’s really amazing.”

Katherine Henthorne

“I took the [director] position to honor both of their memories,” Bence said.

Cystic fibrosis is a disease caused by a genetic mutation that forces the body to produce a thick mucus along the organ’s lining. That mucus builds up over time in the lungs, pancreas and other organs, trapping in bacteria that can lead to infections and extensive lung damage.

Approximately one out of every 31 people in the United States are carriers for cystic fibrosis, according to the nonprofit Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25 percent chance the child will be born with the disease. The average life expectancy for those afflicted who live past childhood is approximately 43 years, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Most of our patients unfortunately die from respiratory failure,” Henthorne said. “[Brittney’s] story was very sad, but to have this in memory of her, it’s really amazing.”

The Breathe for Britt 5K will take place at Smithtown Elementary School, located at 51 Lawrence Ave. in Smithtown. Preregistration costs $25 for adults, $20 for those age 17 and under. Day of registration costs $30 for adults, $25 for those age 17 and under. Awards will be given to the top three male and female
finishers in each age group.

Check-in will run from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. with the race starting at 9 a.m. rain or shine. For more information, contact the race director at breatheforbritt@yahoo.com.

Hundreds of mourners gathered in Smithtown May 25 to say goodbye to one of New York’s bravest who was taken too soon.

A funeral was held Friday for New York City Police officer John Martinez,  of Hauppauge, who was killed in an upstate car crash earlier this week. One lane of East Main Street was closed as a full police motorcade escorted Martinez’s body from Saint James Funeral Home to the funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick R.C. Church.

Martinez was killed in a single-car crash with fellow NYPD officer and Huntington Station resident Michael Colangelo, 31, a single-car crash May 20 in Shandaken. New York State police said Martinez was driving a 2018 Maserati southbound on Oliveria Road at approximately 11:23 p.m. when he lost control of the vehicle, striking a large tree and flipping the car. The vehicle came to a stop on its roof.

Colangelo and Martinez were pronounced dead at the scene. A third passenger was transported to Albany Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, according to state police spokesman Trooper Steven Nevel.

Colangelo was a member of the NYPD’s canine unit who had married his sweetheart, Katherine Berger, earlier that day at the Full Moon Resort in the Hudson Valley. Martinez worked for the NYPD’s 84th Precinct’s detective squad.

The men had departed from Full Moon Resort, but their planned destination was not known, according to Nevel. He said the stretch of Oliveria Road is very rural, curves and has no street lighting. State police said based on skid marks left on the roadway that the vehicle was traveling well in excess of the posted 40 mph speed limit at the time of the accident.

“We don’t know the exact speed they were going at this time,” Nevel said. “We are looking to get that information from the black box of the Maserati.”

State police said they did not know if drugs or alcohol may have played a role in the deadly crash, but an investigation remains ongoing. An autopsy of the driver was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. May 21, but the
results would not be immediately available.

“We’ve interviewed several people at the wedding reception, and everyone was very distraught,” Nevel said.

Colangelo and his wife had planned to travel to Costa Rica for their honeymoon, according to their www.honeyfund.com site, which read, “We’ve lived together quite a while with all our pots and pans, and as we don’t need very many home goods we’ve got another plan. We know it’s not traditional, but it would be a lot of fun, to have some items on our wedding list that will help us catch some sun.”

Anyone who may have witnessed the accident or has information on the events of May 20 is encouraged to contact the state police’s Catskill barracks Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 518-622-8600.

 

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