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Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presents a plaque to Hailee Hurtado July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A 15-year-old’s heroic actions were recognized July 6 at Smithtown Fire Department’s main facility on Elm Avenue.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim talks about Hailee before he and councilmembers gave her and her sister Madison skateboards. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The fire department, elected officials and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation presented Hailee Hurtado with awards and presents for helping to save her entire family from a devastating house fire June 26. If her actions would have been delayed by a few minutes, the outcome could have ended in tragedy, according to the fire department’s public information officer Rick Torre.

“We can all agree today that Hailee’s quick instinct and fast actions define her today as a hero,” Torre said.

It was in the early morning hours of June 26 when Hailee thought she smelled smoke in her Stuyvesant Lane home. Her first response was to wake up her father, Jonathan Hurtado, who discovered there was a fire in the garage. As the father evacuated his wife, Evelyn, and younger daughter, Madison, Hailee ran downstairs for her grandmother. After getting his wife and younger daughter to safety, Jonathan Hurtado returned inside the house where he found Hailee downstairs assisting her grandmother who uses a cane.

When the family was all safe outside, the garage became engulfed in flames and the fire had spread up the exterior to the upper level. Despite the fire department responding in minutes, the home was left uninhabitable with the total destruction of all keepsakes, clothing and electronics.

Torre said while firefighters are trained and participate in drills, Hailee didn’t have that luxury.

“In the early morning hours of June 26, the skills of the classroom or drills didn’t come into play for Hailee Hurtado,” he said. “It was instinct.”

Department chief Kevin Fitzpatrick presented Hailee with a plaque, and she received accolades and certificates for her valor from Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Hailee Hurtado, left, holds the plaque she received from the Smithtown Fire Department as Congressman Lee Zeldin (R) congratulates her on her bravery July 6. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Zeldin congratulated Hailee on her bravery and counted her among the town’s finest as several of the department’s firefighters were on hand for the event.

“It really says a lot about what Hailee did when you have hometown heroes calling you a hero,” he said.

John Kennedy said his office has internships and then handed Hailee his business card and said she was welcomed to call at any time if she were interested in interning in his office.

Wehrheim joked that Hailee asked her parents if she really had to attend, he said, “Now you know why you had to come.”

“The Hurtado family have lost their home, their memories and their keepsakes, but they still have each other thanks to Hailee doing the impossible,” Wehrheim said. “It’s a privilege to honor her today.”

After his speech, Wehrheim and councilmembers gave Hailee and her sister skateboards. Mario Mattera, who is running for State Senate in November and is the business agent for Local Plumbers Union 200, presented four bicycles for the whole family.

Christine Fitzgerald, co-founder of the Smithtown Children’s Foundation, said an iPhone 11 was on the way for Hailee. The foundation has provided relief for the family after the fire and neighbors have started a GoFundMe page to help.

While Hailee was too shy to speak, her father Jonathan Hurtado said the tragedy has been surreal, and he thanked his neighbors and the community, especially the firefighters for their quick response.

“It was apparent in that moment I didn’t know what to do with myself and my family,” he said.

The father said the family appreciated the help they have received and neighbors reaching out to check up on them.

“It was truly a blessing to see how everybody pitched in,” he said.

People wishing to help the Hurtados can visit GoFundMe.com and search Help the Hurtado Family.

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Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating the drowning death of a woman in Fort Salonga.

Fourth Precinct officers responded to a Fort Salonga home June 24 at approximately 6:10 p.m. after a resident called 911 reporting a woman floating in his backyard pool. When officers arrived, they found Carol-Jean Werkstell unresponsive in the water.

Werkstell, 76, was transported to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown where she was pronounced dead.

Sonic

MEET SONIC!

This week’s shelter pet is Sonic,  a 2-year-old female domestic shorthair waiting at the Smithtown Animal Shelter for her PURR-fect soulmate.

Sonic was found as a stray scavenging for scraps of food at a local Sonic restaurant. She can be very shy, but she also has a very sweet personality and is not aggressive at all. It will take some time and patience in order to get Sonic to open up, but it’ll be very worth it when she purrs for you as her stamp of approval! She would prefer to live in a quiet and calm household with a lot of love to give. 

 All of the felines at the shelter are current on vaccines and have received a full workup (blood work, Feline HIV & Leukemia tested, physical exam etc) by a board certified veterinarian. 

If you are interested in meeting Sonic please fill out an adoption application online at www.townofsmithtownanimalshelter.com.

The Smithtown Animal & Adoption Shelter is located at 410 Middle Country Road, Smithtown. For more information, call 631-360-7575.

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Stock photo

Even as Suffolk County prepares for the second phase of the economic reopening to begin next Wednesday, which could include outdoor dining, officials are discussing the possibility of bringing graduations and minor league baseball back.

The Long Island Ducks, a minor league team, have come up with a safety plan with protocols in place that the county plans to submit to New York State.

“The plan is incredibly thorough and has all sorts of different protocols in place to keep people safe,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

If the county is able to reach the fourth phase of reopening in the middle of July, the Ducks could conceivably return to the diamond in front of a crowd of 25 percent of the normal capacity, which would enable attendees to be socially distanced in the park.

At safe distances, people could remove face coverings, the way they do when they go to beaches or are in the water. When walking around or going to the restroom, guests would need to wear face masks or coverings to protect themselves and their fellow baseball fans.

“We’re looking forward to getting this to the state,” Bellone said. “This is something that can happen.”

Additionally, while the Empire State has only permitted virtual and drive-through graduations, officials have left open the possibility of that they would review the possibility of a limited-seating graduation in July.

“I do believe we will be in a position to do this safely,” Bellone said.

The county has also worked with the Suffolk County Superintendents Association to develop a plan to create a safe, life graduation.

“I’m hopeful that will be able to happen later this summer,” Bellone said.

Viral Numbers

The viral figures continue to move in a favorable direction. Over the last day, an additional two people died from complications related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 1,918. This follows a day when one person died, so the pace of deaths, which have cast a pall over a county that was at the epicenter of the pandemic, has dramatically slowed.

Each death extinguishes a life and creates an irretrievable loss for each family, which is why the county and executive like Bellone are hoping that number soon falls to zero.

The number of people infected with the virus was 86. The total number of people who have contracted the virus is now 40,239, which is more than Singapore and Colombia, but is 2,700 less than Sweden, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The infections don’t include antibody testing. A total of 15,080 people have tested positive for antibodies.

Bellone urged residents to provide information if contact tracers reach out to them. When people limit the possible transmission of the deadly virus, as they did during the economically painful and costly New York Pause, they will save lives.

“We are still in this,” Bellone reminded residents. “We need everybody to continue to follow the health guidance and do the right thing here, so we can recovery as a community and get our small businesses back open.”

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, continue to drop. Through the 24 hour period ending on Wednesday, the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals declined another 12, to 213.

The number of residents in the Intensive Care Unit fell by two to 54.

An additional 24 people left the hospital over the last day.

Small businesses that are struggling to meet the new supply demands for face coverings and sanitizer can submit a request starting on Monday through the suffolkcountyny.gov web site. Interested businesses should go to the Department of Labor section and submit a request. The first 1,000 people will received two reusable face cloths and a gallon jug of New York State Clean.

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

Suffolk County is looking to tackle a pressing environmental issue on Long Island with the creation of a Regional Recycling Assessment Task Force. 

The legislation, sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), was passed at the end of 2019. The task force going into 2020 will lok to address the recycling burden found throughout the county. 

Hahn said towns and villages throughout the county are struggling to handle the increased recycling burden. 

“Recycling and waste management is a global problem not just a regional one,” she said. 

Since China’s 2018 decision to ban the import of most plastics and other materials used by its recycling processors, a number of municipalities have altered programs and in cases have reduced or eliminated recycling. 

Hahn said currently recycling in Suffolk County is handled through a patchwork of programs. 

“We need to come together to help each other, and come up with ideas and encourage other solutions,” the legislator said. 

In Brookhaven as a result of the market crash and the town’s recycling contractor, Green Stream Recycling voiding its contract, the town has switched from single-stream to dual-stream recycling and has asked residents to drop glass off at 21 points in the town instead of picking it up at curbside. 

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven town supervisor, said he applauds Hahn’s and others efforts to solve the current recycling issue. 

“It is a very good idea, we have to do something to solve the solid waste crisis in the near future,” he said.

Romaine said with current plans to close the landfill in 2024, and there being no market to send glass, only compounds the issue the town and municipalities face.  

“I wish the DEC would be more involved but I’m glad someone is looking into realistic solutions to this problem. We look forward to participating [in the task force],” the supervisor said. 

Similarly Smithtown was also affected by the departure of Green Stream Recycling, as it had a recycling contract with Brookhaven. Smithtown had an agreement to sell all its recyclables through Green Stream for a $180,000 annual profit. In January 2019, Smithtown residents were told to separate their recyclables when the town switched back to dual-stream recycling. 

Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, plans to put together a 17-member advisory group made up of municipal recycling professionals, county agencies and environmental advocates. Members have not been officially announced and meetings are scheduled to begin sometime later this year. 

The task force’s aim would be to review existing recycling programs, develop strategies for increasing the efficiency of recycling regionally, and to develop mechanisms to encourage the streamlining of the local recycling process.  

Hahn stressed the continuation of educating the public on the benefits of recycling and reducing plastic waste in their everyday lives. 

The 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, which took effect in January 2018, has been successful — with reports showing a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. Hahn also sponsored a bill that would create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that took effect last month. In addition, the Styrofoam bill bars businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products. 

“They go hand in hand — the success has been apparent in reducing plastic waste in the county,” she said. “I’m hoping we can work with Brookhaven and other municipalities in finding a way to properly handle this and do the right thing for residents.”

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Northport Middle School closes classrooms after elevated levels of toxic mercury were detected in a leaching pool outside near G-wing.

Elevated levels of mercury, an odorless toxic chemical, were detected Jan. 6 in the leaching pool area outside of the Northport Middle School. 

Three classrooms in the G-wing were closed in response “out of an abundance of caution.” The results of air quality tests in the classroom are still pending. Otherwise, it was business as usual at the school the days following the incident.

Parents and some retired teachers have raised numerous ongoing health concerns that they say stem from the chemicals and mold that has been found in various locations on school grounds. The building, they say, should be permanently closed. 

The incident is the latest issue parents argue that deems the site unsafe for children and teachers. The decision to close a school for air quality concerns falls under the jurisdiction of the school board, according to county and state health agencies. 

The district has stated on multiple occasions that it has found no evidence of unsafe air or conditions that would justify closure.

As stated in an email from Superintendent Robert Banzer sent to parents, PW Grosser Consulting, the environmental firm that discovered the elevated mercury levels, recommended that classrooms G-51 and G-52 remain unoccupied until further notice. G-51 has not been occupied since Dec. 10 stemming from a foul “rotten-egg” odor that was blamed on the school’s new heating and ventilation system.  

PWGC also recommended that students not occupy classroom G-53.  PWGC also recommended further air and vapor testing inside classrooms G-51, G-52 and G-53. 

Some parents, though, say students should be moved immediately. Former board member Tammie Topel said in a public letter that’s been widely circulated that sixth-graders should be scheduled to attend school at their home elementary school and seventh and eighth-graders should be moved to the district’s other middle school.  A 35 percent school population drop, she said, suggests that it is a viable option to explore. (See Topel’s open letter on page 18.)

The ongoing string of incidences raises serious questions about outside oversight of health standards in school districts. Several families in 2018 filed suit alleging that the district, county, town, state and the county and state health departments alleging personal injury induced by toxic exposures as a result of negligence. 

That year, the school remodeled its K-wing after toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds were found in the building. 

Lawyers representing some of the families did not respond to messages left with their office.  

Last month, in response to a Nov. 20 TBR News Media article that exposed that the Northport-East Northport School District was in violation of some laws governing petroleum bulk storage, district officials announced that they would move its bus depot and refueling station from its location at the middle school to Cavay’s Building & Lumber Supply on Brightside Avenue. 

Meanwhile, a petition posted on Change. org called Close Northport Middle School has garnered over 3,050 signatures.

Banzer did not respond to request for comment prior to going to print about whether or not the board is discussing closing the school or relocating students. 

Town of Huntington closes on Chase Bank site and opens site as municipal parking lot.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has announced that the lot at the northwest corner of New York Avenue and Gerard Street in Huntington Village is open for parking now that the Town has taken possession at a Nov. 8 closing on the property.

“I’m happy to announce 30 new downtown Huntington village parking spaces are now open to help alleviate parking congestion,” said Lupinacci. “This immediate expansion of our parking supply will more than double in 2020 when the temperature is optimal for paving.”

The Town opened the former Chase Bank parking lot for free parking after taking possession of the property. The existing lot has 30 marked spaces: 29 regular and one handicap spot.

The Town plans to leave the existing parking lot open through the holiday season and start demolition of the former Chase Bank building in 2020 and reconstruction of the lot, which will combine the former bank lot with the adjacent existing Municipal Lot 49 located immediately to the north, when temperatures can support paving work.

The Town board approved the purchase of the bank location at its May 29 meeting, in an amount not to exceed $3.05 million. The property is located at 295 New York Ave., at the corner of Gerard Street. 

The Town’s conceptual design adds approximately 71 new municipal parking spaces to downtown Huntington village, including three handicapped parking spots. Construction will be completed in the spring.

Trotta and Singer review the Ccounty's issues during a recent debate.

The Times of Smithtown circulation area includes two Suffolk County legislative districts: 12 and 13. The 12th District encompasses Nesconset and Lake Grove and extends west through portions of St. James into Commack. The 13th District extends from Fort Salonga east to St. James. 

Currently, two Republicans represent the areas, Leslie Kennedy and Robert Trotta, respectively. Overall, the Democrats with an 11-7 ratio, have a majority rule in the county, as it has for the last 13 years. Republicans held the majority for 33 years prior to that. 

Many analysts say that this year’s election could potentially see a shift in power or perhaps tie the representation. So a lot is at stake.

District 13: Parts of Smithtown and St. James, Fort Salonga, San Remo, Kings Park, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor, Commack and East Northport 

By Leah Chiappino

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R) is running for reelection. He has represented Suffolk’s 13th District since 2013. Jan Singer (D), a retired matrimonial lawyer, is challenging him for the seat in this year’s election. 

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police officer for 25 years and FBI agent for 10 years, said his priorities include addressing high taxes, wasteful spending and weeding out county corruption. 

Serving under a corrupt police chief, he said, prompted him to run for office six years ago. “I knew how corrupt the county was and I knew if I didn’t leave, I would get arrested, get in trouble, or die,” he said. “Of the three of us that were on the FBI task force, one is dead, one got arrested and I became a legislator.”

Personally, Trotta said that he has refused any campaign contributions from any person or organization that does business with the county. He supports legislation that would prevent lawmakers from voting on union contracts, if the union has contributed to a legislator’s campaign. Overall, these practices, he expects, would save money and prevent conflicts of interest. 

“Everything comes from wasteful spending and corrupt politicians taking too much money,” he said.

 Singer said her leadership experience will help to make needed changes for Suffolk. She operated a private law practice for over 30 years before retiring in 2012.  She’s organized phone banks for Perry Gershon (D) and Hillary Clinton (D), served as president of her homeowner association, and sat on the board of the Suffolk County Girl Scouts and the Smithtown Democratic Committee. If elected, Singer’s priorities include addressing Suffolk County’s water quality issues. 

 “If we don’t have quality water, free of nitrogen, 1-4-dioxane, and chemical pollution, we can’t have anything,” she said. “We can’t have the economic development which is so necessary to making Suffolk County thrive, because businesses will not open and people will not buy homes.”

To address water quality, Trotta supports reallocating the county’s one-quarter percent (0.25) sales tax income for its Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, so more general fund money is dedicated to protecting the county’s water. 

Singer’s position to address climate change includes support for renewable energy initiatives such as wind turbines and solar energy and an increase in public transportation.

A major concern for both candidates is the county’s budget problems. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) monitors fiscal stress for the state’s municipalities.  Suffolk County, according to the latest report, tops the list as the worst fiscal condition out of all counties. 

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the debt we are putting on our children,” Trotta said.

He blames the county budget troubles on overspending. Government contracting, he said, should be more deeply scrutinized. Personnel costs and expenses, such as police overtime, large pensions and pay increases need to be reined in. As a former police officer, he says he understands the vital work the police do. 

“I’m not saying they don’t deserve their money, but they don’t deserve to bankrupt the country and make it unaffordable for people to live here,” he said. 

Singer takes a different stance.

“The police are the ones that run into danger when I run away,” she said. “They are the ones dealing with the opioid crisis and MS-13. If you go to doors, I have not heard people screaming about overtime and excess pay for the police. They want them there.”

To address the issue, Trotta prefers raising revenue through taxes, instead of hitting people with expenses such as mortgage filing fees, which recently jumped from $65 to $600. The fee is paid not only when people buy a home but also when they refinance their mortgage.

Singer is not for eliminating these fees.

“I’m not debating whether or not some of the fees such as the mortgage recording fees are too high, but I don’t disagree with the principle of having it because the alternative is to either discontinue the service, run the service at a reduced level, or raise taxes,” she said. 

Both candidates see the opioid crisis as a critical issue. Singer proposes expanding education prevention services and supports an effort to expand medically assisted therapy and rehab programs in prisons. Any settlement funds that the county receives from its lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, Singer said, should be used for treatment and education. 

Trotta says the county “cannot arrest its way out” of the problem, noting that many people addicted to opioids also suffer from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. He supports “treatment and a variety of different methods” to curb the issue.  

With regard to the red-light camera ticketing program, Trotta calls it a money grab that causes more accidents than it prevents. He thinks it should be eliminated. 

A study conducted by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates and released earlier this year, stated that accidents were up 60 percent since the program’s implementation, though accidents involving injuries went down by 11 percent.

“If someone runs a red light and it’s dangerous, they should get a ticket period,” Trotta said. “Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here.”

Singer supports continuing the program.

“It is about safety,” she said. “The vehicle and traffic law says you can’t run that red light.

Singer and Trotta both support the revitalization of Kings Park, and both agree that the community should retain its small-town feel. 

Defense was the story of the game Oct. 19 when Centereach senior Matt Robbert broke the ice when he punched in on short yardage for the touchdown midway through the second quarter. Robbert then kicked an extra point to make it 7-0.

Smithtown East struggled offensively, and it wasn’t until junior running back Tyler Pohlman punched in on a short run for the Bulls with under two minutes left. Needing the extra point to retie the game, the kick was partially blocked and the Cougars held on for a 7-6 win, dampening the Bulls’ homecoming celebration.

Eric Harrington got the call time and time again grinding out 107 yards on 20 carries for the Cougars, while Robbert gained 55 yards in 10 attempts.

The win lifts Centereach to 3-3 who hit the road against Connetquot Oct. 25 before returning home to face Half Hollow Hills East Nov. 1.

Smithtown East slips to 2-4 and must win out against Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 26 and Northport Nov. 2 for any hopes of postseason play.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

By Barbara Beltrami

I think carrots may well be one of the top unsung heroes of the American pantry. Could it be because when we were kids we were admonished to eat our carrots so we could see in the dark? Or because they were accompaniments to the peas that we had to eat or we wouldn’t get dessert? Even cookbooks don’t give much attention to carrots. OK, so they’re not one of those veggies that have come into popularity after prior obscurity. But for me, the carrots are the best part of a pot roast gravy. They’re great with fresh herbs, lemon and butter. Never mind carrot-ginger soup; try cream of carrot soup. And who doesn’t like carrot cake? They’re the golden veggie.

Carrots with Fresh Dill, Lemon and Butter

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound fresh carrots, trimmed and peeled

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

½ stick unsalted butter

Freshly squeezed juice of half a small lemon

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

DIRECTIONS:

Cut carrots into half-inch diagonal slices; sprinkle with salt and pepper; steam until tender, but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Melt butter; in small bowl combine with lemon juice and dill. Place carrots in a serving dish and toss with butter mixture. Serve with meat, poultry or fish.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

3 cups flour

3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1½ cups vegetable oil

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

11/3 cups chopped walnuts

1½ cups shredded zucchini

2 cups pureed cooked carrots

½ pound softened cream cheese

6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Dash vanilla extract

Freshly squeezed juice of half a lemon

DIRECTIONS:

For the cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round layer cake pans with waxed paper, then grease with butter. In a large bowl sift dry ingredients; add oil and eggs; beat well; then stir in walnuts, zucchini and carrots. Pour into prepared pans; place on middle rack of oven and bake about half an hour, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks; when cool, transfer to cake plate and frost.

For the frosting: In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter; sift in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until thoroughly incorporated and smooth. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice. Spread between layers, on sides and top of cake. Serve with coffee, tea or milk.

Cream of Carrot Soup

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 cups vegetable broth

2 cups water

1 pound carrots, cleaned and peeled

½ cup half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

In a large pot melt the butter in the olive oil. Add onion, cover and cook, stirring halfway through, until onion is transparent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add broth, water and carrots, and over high heat bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until carrots are very tender, about 30 minutes. In bowl of food processor, puree carrots in small batches, if necessary; return them to liquid, stir to combine thoroughly and transfer back to pot; stir in half-and-half and salt and pepper over low heat until mixture is just hot but not boiling; ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with a well-chilled sauvignon blanc.