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Royals reign over Suffolk for first time since 1927

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

Jillian Colucci and Corinne Scannell know what being a part of a Port Jeff powerhouse is like. They were both on the two-time state champion girls’ soccer team. Now, they can say they are a part of another team that made history with total team dominance.

The Royals basketball team earned the school’s first Suffolk County Class C title since 1927 Feb. 18. Despite being the first team to take Port Jefferson all the way this year, the Royals hadn’t had success is the finals in seasons past. The girls went 11-1 in League VIII last season, and 10-0 the year before that, but lost to Pierson-Bridgehampton and Babylon, respectively in the final game.

This year, the girls not only made history; they got redemption with a 46-43 win over Pierson.

Senior Courtney Lewis, who scored a team-high 12 points, was limited well below her 27.3 points-per-game average. She and classmate Jillian Colucci were forced to watch the final minutes of the game from the bench, after fouling out as the 13-point lead they entered the fourth quarter with slowly shrank.

“Honestly, it was very stressful and everyone else on the team stepped up,” Lewis said of watching the end of the fourth quarter transpire. “They just played really well today.”

The Royals led 38-25 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation. That’s when momentum shifted the Whalers’ way. The team slowly chipped away at the deficit, with Nia Dawson, who scored a game-high 17 points, leading the way.

With two of the team’s primary ball handlers sidelined, Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said his bench players were remarkable.

“They may not have been comfortable in the situation they were put in on the court — especially in a pressure situation — but they stepped up and did a nice job,” he said.

Protecting a six-point lead at that point, Port Jefferson was sent to the free-throw line, but couldn’t cash in. Pierson had the same opportunity on the other end, and used it to lessen the Royals’ advantage to four points. Coming down to the wire, Pierson’s Isabel Peters went to the stripe and sank both of her free throws with 17 seconds left in the game.

Port Jefferson sophomore Jocelyn Lebron added a free-throw to extend Port Jefferson’s advantage to three points. Port Jefferson senior Corinne Scannell had an opportunity to put the championship away when she was fouled with eight seconds left, and she didn’t disappoint.

“No matter how much they were gaining on us, we still had the lead and we had to keep that in perspective,” Scannell said. “We put pressure on ourselves, we played as a team and we pushed ourselves.”

Lebron said despite being one of the younger members of the squad, she too knew what her Royals had to do.

“When they got close, we just had to slow this game down a little bit, but keep our energy up,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with this experience.”

Rosen said he gave his girls some words of advice during the fourth quarter.

“I said to them that runs are inevitable,” he said. “Things like that are going to happen and the key is to be able to weather the run.”

Colucci credited her teammates for how they handled the game’s final minutes, but not before she tipped her hat to her opponents, especially for being the team to top the Royals last year.

“It’s always a tough game against Pierson — they never give up and they play us really hard — but we just had to keep our composure,” she said. “We all made eye contact, we relaxed and we slowed the game down. We tried not to let the crowd get us frazzled and we kept our heads in the game.”

Behind Lewis were Colucci and Scannell with 11 points each. Colucci swished two 3-pointers and Scannell had a double-double with 12 rebounds. Senior Gillian Kenah finished with five points, Lebron added four and freshman Samantha Ayotte scored once, with a shot from beyond the arc.

Port Jefferson will take on Class B’s winner of the Feb. 21 Mattituck and McGann-Mercy matchup for the small school championship title at Riverhead High School Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.

While the team is to get ready for the next game, Rosen said just wants his team to take in the moment first.

“I told them to just savor the win,” he said. “We’ll talk X’s and O’s another time.”

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.

Sidewalks on Main Street in Port Jefferson will be repaired in March. Photo by Kevin Redding

Starting in March, while walking on Main Street in Port Jefferson, don’t look down.

Repairs to sidewalks on both sides of Main Street will take place beginning March 1, weather permitting, and are expected to last about four weeks, according to Port Jefferson Village.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a board meeting Feb. 8 that $200,000 of the total expected cost of $235,000 was secured from the state’s capital improvement account thanks in part to efforts of state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Garant said Suffolk County contractor Deal Concrete Corporation will be doing the job along Route 25A. One side of Main Street will be done at a time, and temporary bridges will be utilized to allow shoppers to enter and exit businesses while the concrete is wet, according to Trustee Larry LaPointe.

“It just needs to be done because the sidewalk is a disaster,” Garant said during the meeting. “After we replace this sidewalk we are putting all of the building owners and merchants on notice that they really have to clean the sidewalks. They have to get out there with gum-busters, hoses.”

According to the village code, business owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks in front of their establishments. During the board meeting, a community member suggested fines be imposed on businesses that are not in compliance, and Garant agreed.

“Once we’ve got a clean slate then we can do exactly that,” LaPointe said during the meeting in response to the community member.

The sidewalks to be repaired span from the three-way intersection of Main Street, East Broadway and West Broadway near Port Jefferson Harbor, heading south and stopping at East Main Street.

The three business owners and one manager of establishments within the area who were available to be interviewed all said they hadn’t been notified by anyone of the impending project as of the afternoon of Feb. 14.

Vincenzo Chianese, owner of Vincenzo’s Pizza on the east side of Main Street, said he anticipates it might be bad for business if the sidewalk is inaccessible for an extended period of time, but said the temporary bridges would be helpful for customers.

“If they do it the right way I think it’ll be ok,” said Bill Familia, owner of Yogo Delish frozen yogurt shop. “It’ll be a little bit of a hassle for the walkers, but we can handle March in my business.”

Joseph Ciardullo, owner of C’est Cheese, an artisanal cheese, boutique wine and craft beer restaurant on the west side of Main Street, said despite his shop’s rear entrance, lengthy construction projects are rarely good for business.

“It’s definitely not going to be the most ideal situation,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a slight decline [in business], but hopefully it won’t be too inconvenient.”

Ciardullo added he’s looking forward to the project’s completion.

“I think any village improvement is
always a good idea,” he said.

Linda McLoone, manager of Thomas Kinkade art gallery on the west side of Main Street, also expressed concerns about access for patrons, but admitted repairs are probably for the best.

“It probably will affect business, but I don’t know,” she said. “I guess it needs to be done because the sidewalks out there are horrible — they’re tripping hazards.”

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

Committee created to start the process of creating family-oriented motorsports park

Suffolk County Legislator Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory discusses Long Islanders' desire for a drag strip in Suffolk County. Photo from Legislator Gregory's office

Suffolk County is putting the pedal to the metal in an effort to build a drag strip for its need-for-speed residents.

A large crowd of more than 100 drag racing enthusiasts filled the auditorium at the Suffolk County Legislature Feb. 7 and cheered on as Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced the formation of an ad hoc committee, consisting of a bipartisan group of legislators, representatives from the Department of Planning and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association, and members from the racing community, to start the process of bringing a family-oriented motorsports park to the county.

Long Islanders who wish to see a drag strip in Suffolk County created a Facebook page “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip.” Image from Facebook

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County,” Gregory said during the press conference.

The ad-hoc committee was suggested by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) after representatives from the “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip” advocacy group charged into the legislature auditorium in December to protest a resolution on the board’s agenda.

The board had been considering a bill for a master plan in Yaphank, but the racing community argued against accepting the master plan, claiming that the property would be better used as a drag strip. The group had been looking at some areas included in the master plan for a potential site to build on. Even though the Yaphank property wound up not being anywhere near large enough for what they were proposing, the passionate group had the board’s interest.

“I was really inspired by the passion of all those that came to the Legislature and we’re going to do all we can to try and make it a reality,” Cilmi said in a phone interview.

In terms of the crowd at both gatherings, Cilmi said, “it’s worth pointing out that in the room were young children, lots of women and lots of guys … it was a large group of very enthusiastic people and it’s not every day that you fill an auditorium with people all interested in one issue.”

The Suffolk legislators on the committee —Gregory, Cilmi, Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) — will explore potential locations in Suffolk for the drag strip, which is projected to occupy between 100 and 200 acres, as well as the economic boom a full-fledged drag strip could bring to the struggling county.

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County.”

—DuWayne Gregory

Gregory said the committee hopes the drag strip will deter the illegal and dangerous street racing that’s been known to take place in areas like Wyandanch. Another task is to make sure the local community and neighboring towns are behind the project and understand their quality of life will not be disrupted by it.

In building the drag strip, the committee anticipates growth in the local racing-related industry, like shops that paint the racing cars and work on engines, and job creation in those fields. There will also be food concessions within the arena, and spectators who could potentially come out and spend money at surrounding restaurants and hotels.

Gregory said any large venue has the potential to attract thousands of people and effectively increase the county’s sales tax, which has been flat for the last few years — “Long Island is losing money in sales tax as residents and tourists flock to nearby states, including New Jersey, to use their drag racing strips.” He said estimates show that a drag strip could generate more than $100 million in revenue.

He proposed that this would be “a safe and enjoyable attraction that people [will] want to come to.”

Kruspki, who grew up in Cutchogue and remembers his grandfather taking him to the Riverhead Raceway when he was young, said the racing culture is still very much alive.

“A lot of people are really interested in this and enjoy racing and working on cars and so to most people it’s more than a hobby, it’s more of a lifestyle,” he said in a phone interview. “I give DuWayne Gregory credit for putting this together; it’s a nice bipartisan group and everyone sees the value in it.”

While still too early to confirm any serious location ideas, the committee and members of the advocacy group have areas like Enterprise Park in Riverhead on a list of potential sites to build on. One of the motorsports advocates has expressed interest in contributing a piece of their own property.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta said the proposed drag strip has the potential to bring in needed revenue for Suffolk County. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

“It’s going to be tough to find a spot to put this because a lot of people won’t want to hear it,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “It’s going to have to be somewhere far away from most people, but we’re going to try our utmost [best] to find a place.”

Trotta, who has been consistently vocal about Suffolk’s current economic state, said while he doesn’t necessarily believe the drag strip will be “a savior of Suffolk County,” there’s great potential to bring in needed revenue.

“There’s not a resort in Nassau or Suffolk, and Long Island is bigger than most cities,” Trotta said. “There’s an opportunity for us to make something and mix it with the drag strip. We need people from the city to come out here and spend money.”

During the press conference, John Cozzali, a Mastic resident and founder of “Long Island Needs a Drag Strip,” said he was happy to see the Legislature taking a serious look at his group’s long-dreamt project.

“We look forward to working on this initiative, which we believe will have a positive economic impact for Long Island and will create a safe place for the new generation to come and race,” Cozzali said.

According to Gregory, the full economic analysis, conceptual planning of the racetrack and location securing should take roughly nine months.

SCPD branch involves the community to help with tips for investigations and arrests

Drugs recovered thanks to tips from Crime Stoppers. File photo from SCPD

By Rebecca Anzel

During its 22-year partnership with the Suffolk County Police Department, Crime Stoppers has served as a way for residents to share tips about crime anonymously in their neighborhoods without fear of punishment, and has helped cut crime and aid myriad criminal investigations

The not-for-profit organization expanded its repertoire of resources to include a general tip line, 800-220-TIPS (8477); another tip hotline for information about drugs, 631-852-NARC (6272); a website and a number for text messaging. Since 1994, its 22,287 tips generated by community members helped solve 42 homicides, closed 1,688 active warrants and led to 2,154 arrests, as at October.

Crime Stoppers president Nick Amarr. Photo from Nick Amarr

For the organization’s work fighting crime and the heroin epidemic in Suffolk County, Crime Stoppers is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the organization is indispensable to the community.

“Crime Stoppers is a valuable asset and has created a great partnership with our police department to reduce crime in Suffolk County,” she said in an email. “They work diligently to coordinate information from the public and the media to solve crime and make arrests. I am proud to support Crime Stoppers and appreciate the dedication of the police officers and volunteers who keep our communities safe.”

The organization is staffed by unpaid volunteers, most of whom are former law enforcement or veterans. President Nick Amarr, a Marine and Crime Stoppers volunteer for 14 years, said the organization’s real value is in providing residents with a safe way to help law enforcement protect their communities.

“It gives the public a voice and an understanding of how important law enforcement is in keeping our freedom and protecting our children,” Amarr said. “That’s very important to me and everyone on our board.”

Amarr also said Crime Stoppers’ employees would not be able to continue the work they have been doing without the support of Police Commissioner Tim Sini, First Deputy Commissioner John Barry and Police Chief Stuart Cameron. Amarr has worked with four administrations and said this one strategically embraces Crime Stoppers as a partner and has done more in less than 12 months than he has seen accomplished in the past 10 years.

Members at a Patchogue benefit concert present Crime Stoppers with a large check representing donations received. File photo from SCPD

“We have reinvested in our partnership with Suffolk Crime Stoppers,” Sini said. “It’s a great, great, great way we’re able to engage with the public and we’ve done a lot of good for the communities.”

The 8-month-old narcotics tip line alone had led to a 140 percent increase in the amount of search warrants issued by August; hundreds of drug dealers have been arrested; the police department has seized a substantial amount of money; and is on pace to confiscate more illegal firearms than ever before, according to Sini.

For Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue founder and president, Dori Scofield, whose son Daniel died in 2011 from a heroin overdose, the work Crime Stoppers is doing to combat the county’s heroin epidemic is invaluable.

“The only way we’re going to combat this epidemic is by working together in different forces and stopping the drugs in Suffolk County and helping our youth that are already addicted and educating children and parents,” Scofield said. “This epidemic takes a village to combat and our police and the Crime Stoppers are an important part of that village.”

Crime Stoppers is funded completely by donations, which it uses exclusively for rewards for tips leading to an arrest. In July, the organization hosted a benefit concert at The Emporium in Patchogue, raising $58,000 in one night. Amarr said it will host another fundraiser at the same venue next year.

Mike DelGuidice at a concert fundraiser. File photo from Rebecca Anzel

Teri Kroll, chairperson of People United to Stop Heroin, part of Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, spoke at the event in support of Crime Stoppers five months ago. Since then, she said she has heard that parents across Suffolk County call in information they hear from their children about drug dealers and unsavory activities in their communities.

“They’ve made a huge difference,” Kroll said. “The police department can’t fight all crime without any help and the Crime Stoppers being a liaison between the public and them is only a plus.”

Tracey Farrell, formerly Budd, a Rocky Point mother who lost her son Kevin to a heroin overdose in 2012, agrees the service Crime Stoppers provides is life saving to many kids.

“In the few months that it [NARC line] has been out, it has made a huge difference,” she said. “It’s nice that people see when they make a phone call, something is happening. I can’t say enough about how great this is.”

Farrell also said she thinks residents are less interested in the cash reward that comes after a reporting.

“I think they’re happy they have some place to report things going on in their own neighborhood,” she said. “[And Crime Stoppers] needs to keep getting information out there wherever they can.”

A rock, that sits in front of a home in Rocky Point and is believed to be a boulder deposited from glaciers thousands of years ago, is part of a Suffolk County spending controversy. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

The massive boulder that sits in front of the boarded-up house at 30 Sam’s Path in Rocky Point looms large in the childhood memories of Annie Donnelly, who grew up there. When she was 8 years old, the rock was the place to be in the neighborhood — the place local kids would gather for use as a clubhouse or a fort or even just to climb. Years later, teens would find the rock made a great place for a first kiss or a first swig of beer.

“It was the focal point for so many of us,” said Donnelly, who is now retired and living in Florida. “It was the go-to place for many of our first times in those days.”

The rock, which measures 50 feet long and 35 feet high, was even the site for Donnelly’s wedding reception in 1971.

The home which the rock sits in front of, at 30 Sams Path, was purchased last year for $107,000. Photo by Erin Dueñas
The home which the rock sits in front of, at 30 Sams Path, was purchased last year for $107,000. Photo by Erin Dueñas

“There was a dance floor built by my dad behind the rock and we decorated it with flowers from around town,” she said. “It was an enchanted wedding.”

With her fond memories, it comes as no surprise that Donnelly supports efforts spearheaded by Suffolk County legislator Sarah Anker to acquire the property and turn it into a “pocket park.” Donnelly recalled that her father never minded when kids played on the rock, even though it sat on his front lawn. “Any kid could use it,” she said. “We knew it belonged to the town and everyone in it.”

According to Anker, efforts to acquire the property where the rock sits began after campaigning in the area last year, and listening to neighbors who weren’t concerned with the rock, but more with the dilapidated, empty house behind it.

“Neighbors asked about doing something with the zombie home,” Anker said. “Revitalizing the property was the main objective of the initiative.”

Anker pointed out that she never submitted legislation for the county to purchase the property with tax dollars like it’s been reported — stressing that public funds would not be used to purchase it. She said she is in talks with several not-for-profit organizations including the Nature Conservancy and the Peconic Land Trust, who may have an interest in helping to purchase the property for public use. The house was purchased though, last year, for $107,000, and the current owner has signaled that he could be willing to sell.

While some like Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Smithtown) says it’s “preposterous” and “embarrassing” to buy a rock, community members and historical leaders view the piece of property differently.

“Rocky Point is very proud of this rock,” said Rocky Point Historical Society President Natalie Aurucci Stiefel. “It’s a natural wonder and the town takes pride in it.”

“Neighbors asked about doing something with the zombie home. Revitalizing the property was the main objective of the initiative.”

—Sarah Anker

She said that the rock is likely how Rocky Point got its name. Local legend contends that it was once a spot frequented by Native Americans in the area, lending it its nickname, Indian Rock. Stiefel said that like many of the rocks on the North Shore, the boulder was deposited from glaciers thousands of years ago.

Anker said that there are many benefits to revitalizing the spot, which as it stands now, depreciates the value of the entire community. She noted the historical and natural value of the rock, as well as value of remediating the blighted area.

“There’s also the educational value,” she said. “I imagine a child looking at that boulder from thousands of years ago in awe.”

Dot Farrell, of Sound Beach, said she passes the rock frequently and considers herself sensitive to the historical significance it plays in the town. But she has reservations about what the acquisition of the property could mean for the town.

“Pocket parks become drug hangouts,” she said. “We don’t need another one.”

She also questioned where the money would come from to maintain the property, even if the initial purchase was made without tax dollars.

“It’s going to need ongoing upkeep and there are so many other things to spend money on,” she said. “I prefer my town didn’t take on anymore obligations that they don’t need. I want my town to be as fiscally savvy as I try to be.”

File photo

This week’s issues of Times Beacon Record Newspapers are set up a little differently.

Suffolk County has one of the highest rates of death from heroin and opioid overdoses in New York State, and we feel this growing drug abuse problem deserves a special journalistic spotlight. So we dedicated this issue to looking at the different angles of approaching the heroin and opioid problem. In this week’s paper, you will find facts: How much the substance abuse trend has grown throughout the past few years; how our local communities, governments, police departments and residents have adapted to fight back against this movement; and reflections from recovering addicts and parents who have lost children to drug overdoses.

Suffolk County leads New York State in deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses. Graphic by TBR News Media
Suffolk County leads New York State in deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses. Graphic by TBR News Media

Suffolk County has a drug problem. And while it may be broken news, this is not breaking news.

Heroin and prescription opioid-related overdoses and deaths are increasing yearly across the nation, state and county, according to all available data, but the overall conversation lacks focus, those close to the issue have said. One Long Island man whose line of work leaves him with little insulation from the problem said it is worse than most would imagine.

Dan Moloney, who along with his brother Peter owns six Long Island locations of Moloney Family Funeral Homes, said in an exclusive interview that he believes the problem facing Suffolk County deserves a harsher spotlight. Moloney, who has an unenviable front row seat to the horrors that come from the addictive and powerful substance, said the problem reached a tipping point for him in 2009.

After a funeral for a Rocky Point student who overdosed, the Moloneys decided to try to use their platform to deliver an important message. They had posters made up with the words “Some kids are dying for a high” in bold letters on top of an image of a flower arrangement with a card that read, “With Deepest Sympathy, The class of ’10.” Below the image, the funeral director’s message read in part: “The last thing we want to see is a death that could have been prevented. Help us make sure we don’t.”

The Moloneys tried to distribute the posters to school districts around the Island, though they couldn’t find any takers.

Maloney’s Funeral home still has stacks of this poster. Photo by Alex Petroski
Moloney’s Funeral home still has stacks of this poster. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Nobody wants to talk about it,” Dan Moloney said. “Nobody wants to hear from the funeral director.”

On the surface, in Suffolk County, it would appear heroin abuse is a daily conversation in one way or another, from politicians sponsoring initiatives to news outlets covering arrests and overdoses, to firsthand accounts from former addicts in various forms.

Moloney said he wouldn’t agree — not only is the problem receiving too little attention, he said, but also the wrong people are doing the talking.

“Are people sitting in the bleachers talking about the heroin problem?” he said. “But if their kid had some sort of disease, they’d be talking about it. They’d be doing fundraisers to help them find a cure.”

The two go hand-in-hand — heroin and opioids — or at least they should, Moloney said. Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive version of an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, statistics reporting deaths related to one or the other are not always paired.

The CDC’s website said health care providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion prescriptions for legal opioids in 2013. Supply and demand for prescription pain medication doesn’t always dry up at the same rate. When the prescribed pills are gone and the desire for more lingers, the cheaper, stronger drug becomes a logical alternative.

In 2013, New York State’s Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing — Prescription Monitoring Program, also known as I-STOP/PMP, went into effect. The system works as a registry for practitioners to consult and track dispensed prescription histories for patients. The program has restricted supply of opioids to addicts, though it has done nothing to curb their demand. No tracking system exists for the neighborhood heroin dealer.

Moloney said one of his business’s facilities held funerals for three heroin overdose victims in just one day earlier this year. The closest comparison he could come up with to a public health concern inflicting that much damage in one day is a car crash that kills a vehicle full of people. He said that in some years, only two to three motorcycle-related deaths occur over the course of entire summer, which the public tends to find alarming, but that pales in comparison to heroin- and opioid-related deaths.

The difficulties in securing relevant and timely statistics on overdose-related deaths in New York State has contributed to undermining the understanding of the severity of Suffolk County’s problem, according to Moloney.

“Are people sitting in the bleachers talking about the heroin problem? But if their kid had some sort of disease, they’d be talking about it. They’d be doing fundraisers to help them find a cure.”

— Dan Maloney

“New York State is terrible,” he said about the state’s demographic record-keeping, which is an insight few could offer outside of the funeral business. “Three years down the road — the latest data you have is from three years ago. With the technology we have today, there’s absolutely no reason for that. And I know from colleagues that I have in other states, when you can’t get the information about how many deaths occurred in a certain place for two or three years, or what they were — because all of that is tracked — I just think the data that’s out there is antiquated and the situation is worse than the data they’re using shows.”

Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson, has been a regular contributor of insight and opinions regarding heroin and opioid addiction among young people in Suffolk County for about as long. He, like Moloney, said the problem is likely worse than anyone in the county realizes.

“The level of denial among parents continues to be deeply disturbing,” Pizzarelli wrote in a April 2016 column featured in this newspaper. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, “which are a vital lifeline and network in our community for those working on recovery and wellness, have to worry that drug dealers are now waiting outside these meetings to prey on men and women in early recovery.”

Pizzarelli said his tipping point, much like that of Moloney’s, came in 2009. So far, though, he added, it has not been enough.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said in May there were 103 fatal heroin overdoses in Suffolk County in 2015. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) released a report on June 9 saying there were more than 200 deaths in which heroin or opioids played a role in Suffolk County in 2014.

Regardless of how and when the deaths are identified with a specific cause or a contributing factor being opioids, one thing is clear to Moloney: the number is higher than we think.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, since the act of administering the medication Narcan to reverse an opioid overdose became commonplace in August 2012, more than 630 saves have been recorded through Sept. 22.

In addition to conflicting stats, Moloney said an issue that he encounters is the stigma parents feel about losing a child to an overdose and what it might suggest about their aptitude as a parent. Most of the time, parents decline to immediately identify a heroin or opioid overdose as their child’s cause of death, he said. In fact, Moloney estimated that nine out of 10 parents whose child died of an overdose don’t address the issue and the cause isn’t added to a death certificate until about three months later, when lab reports are complete.

“It almost creates an environment where there doesn’t have to be an acknowledgement —not publicly,” Moloney said. “Of course there’s a lot of shame.”

Down Payment Assistance Program to help 35 families

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Kara Hahn congratulate down payment recipients in Port Jefferson. Photo from Steve Bellone's office

By Donna Newman

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) recently announced the extension of the Suffolk County Down Payment Assistance Program, which assists first-time homebuyers with funds for a down payment to help make the “American Dream” of homeownership a reality.

Assistance will provide up to $10,000 in grant funding to eligible first-time homebuyers — helping an additional 35 Suffolk County families. Since the program’s inception, Suffolk County has helped more than 1,700 families with down payments on their first homes.

Applications are now being accepted through Nov. 30. Residents may download the application through the Community Development tab on the County’s website, www.suffolkcountyny.gov.

Applications will be accepted by mail only and may also be requested by telephone from the Community Development Office: 631-853–5705.

Bellone stressed that qualified Suffolk County residents must purchase a home within the consortium area. They will have 90 days from the date of issuance of the Purchase Certificate to submit a fully executed Contract of Sale to the Community Development Office — or 300 days to submit a fully executed contract of sale if the first-time homebuyer is purchasing a new construction home.

The consortium includes all of Suffolk County, excluding the Towns of Babylon and Islip.

Comprehensive details of the eligibility criteria, income guidelines and other elements of the program are available on the County website. Key eligibility elements include:

• An applicant must be a first-time homebuyer as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a household that has not owned a home during the three-year period immediately prior to the purchase of a residence with HOME funding.

• Prospective applicants must represent a low to moderate income household with an annual income not exceeding 80 percent of the area median income as determined by HUD, which includes an adjustment for family size; must have at least $3,000 banked at the time of application; have a documented minimum income of at least $30,000 and be able to obtain a mortgage from a qualified lender.

• The maximum appraised value of a single-family residence to be purchased within the Suffolk County Consortium HOME Selection Area cannot exceed $356,000 for existing housing or new construction. Single-family homes, condominiums and cooperative apartments (co-ops) are eligible.

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