Following an April incident in which a man drove into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Town of Brookhaven boat ramp located at the north end of Barnum Avenue, Port Jefferson Village is calling for action.
Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a board meeting June 5 the village has sent a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation and State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) asking for the traffic signal at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and West Broadway to be changed from having a standard green light to a green left arrow and right arrow. The April 6 incident saw a man in his early 60s drive into Port Jefferson Harbor via the ramp at about 5:30 p.m., according to the Suffolk County Police Department. The car was found submerged underwater and a few good Samaritans helped remove the man from the car. Members from the Suffolk County Marine Bureau dive team went in the water to search for possible additional victims. The driver was treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook Hospital and his current condition is still not known, according to Garant.
“People sometimes are losing their way on a misty morning or a foggy morning or a rainy morning or on a sunny morning,” Garant said during the meeting.
In the aftermath of the incident in April Garant called on the Town of Brookhaven to step up and do something to resolve the recurring issue, as the ramp is town property.
“It’s only a matter of time before this happens again,” she said.
A spokesperson for the town that asked not to be named responded to Garant’s calls for action at the time.
“The Port Jefferson boat ramp has existed at its current location for generations,” the spokesperson said. “A number of measures are in place including a multitude of ‘Do Not Enter’ signs, road arrows and other traffic control measures to clearly indicate that this is not an entrance.”
This is not the first time the positioning of the town ramp beyond the village intersection has been the source of controversy.
According to documents obtained from Brookhaven in May, both the town and village were sued by the wife and executrix of the estate of Richard Levin in 2007. Levin died Dec. 5, 2005, after driving into the water via the ramp at about 6 p.m. Alice Cialella, an eyewitness of the incident who was directly behind Levin in traffic, said Levin had his left blinker on, hesitated momentarily, then accelerated through the intersection and plunged into the harbor via the ramp.
“As a result of the negligence of the defendants in failing to properly maintain the intersection of Route 25A and Barnum Ave., in failing to properly safeguard against motorists driving onto said Port Jefferson ramp into the water, in failing to properly illuminate said area, in failing to provide fencing and warning lights — as a result of the aforementioned Richard Levin died,” the lawsuit read in part. “[The] town failed to submit any evidence that it maintained its property in a reasonably safe condition by providing adequate fencing, lighting or warning of the dangerous condition on its property.”
Judge Joseph Farneti of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit in January 2011 because the “acts or omissions of defendants were not the proximate cause of the alleged accident.”
Christopher Kelsch, a former village resident who was given a Carnegie Medal by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for trying to save Levin, said in an April phone interview he’d like to see action to prevent similar future accidents.
“People are dying here and it’s a simple fix,” he said. Kelsch also testified on behalf of Levin’s case in the 2011 lawsuit.