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East Setauket

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Approximately 200 people celebrated the first night of Hanukkah at Village Chabad in East Setauket.

When addressing the attendees, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum talked about the inspiring message of the holiday where even one flame of light can dispel an immense amount of darkness.

“Just like on the menorah itself, every day we must increase on the good we did yesterday and ultimately good will always prevail,” he said.

Setauket Fire Department volunteers were on hand to help with the lighting. Attendees enjoyed a Chocolate Coin “Gelt Drop,” when 2,000 coins were tossed from the top of an extended fire truck bucket up in the air. There were also traditional jelly donuts, hot latkes and hot cocoa for all. Jester Jim performed a juggling show under the Menorah’s glow to conclude the program.

The rabbi invited everyone in attendance to help break a record on the night of Saturday, Dec. 24, for 1,000 Jewish homes in Suffolk and Nassau counties to light menorahs simultaneously on Zoom from the comfort of their own homes. To register, visit Menorah1000.com.

Photos by Gail DeClue

The Village Chabad once again welcomed community members to its Jewish Summer Festival on July 10. The event took place for the first time since 2018 on the Chabad’s property on Nicolls Road in East Setauket.

In 2019, the Chabad held its grand opening celebration for its new building in place of the summer festival, which was held at West Meadow Beach in previous years. The last two years, the festival was unable to be held due to the pandemic.

Approximately 250 people attended this year, according to Rabbi Motti Grossbaum.

Attendees enjoyed a barbecue and activities, which included face painting and giveaways. Tali Yess provided the music, and The Red Trouser Show, from New Hampshire, also performed stunts for everyone.

An SUV crashed into the double doors of Mario’s restaurant located in the Old School House Square shopping center in East Setauket on Friday, July 1.

Restaurant manager Ann Tipley said she was standing at the front counter when it happened, and the car stopped a few feet from her. She said it was scary to witness.

“Fortunately, no one got hurt,” she said. “It was just a big mess.”

The door has already been replaced, and Tipley said they are currently waiting for the glass  for the door.

The Setauket Fire Department and police officers responded to the incident, and the driver and passenger of the SUV remained on the scene.

Staff members quickly cleaned up the broken glass, and the restaurant remained open for business.

Benner’s Farm in East Setauket continued its egg hunt tradition during the spring holidays, and for the second year in a row, created a socially-distanced event. 

On April 16 and 17, families arrived to the farm at their designated time slots to enjoy the egg hunt, take photos with the Easter Bunny, visit with the farm’s animals and check out merchandise from local vendors.

A home on Old Town Road in East Setauket was destroyed by fire Feb. 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A tragic fire in East Setauket has left a father and his 10-month-old son in critical but stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Lisa Ostrowski holds baby Leo with Steven Ortner in the background. Photo from Carolyn Ortner

The fire began slightly after midnight on Feb. 18 on Old Town Road, and the home next to the Old Towne garden center was quickly engulfed by flames due to the high winds that night. Steven Ortner, 30, was able to escape with his son, Leo. However, Ortner’s fiancée Lisa Ostrowski, 31, died in the fire.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, both its homicide squad and arson section are investigating the fire. A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be noncriminal in nature. 

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 12:01 a.m. Police officers and the Setauket Fire Department arrived on the scene a few minutes later to find the home engulfed in flames. According to SCPD, Ortner escaped through a second-floor window. While he was on the roof ledge, he handed the baby to a passerby below. A responder then took the baby while Ortner tried to go back into the house to save Ostrowski, according to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager.

Sterne said when Setauket Fire Department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw Ortner trying to go inside the home, he advised the father not to do so. Ortner was told to jump and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski was found dead once the fire was extinguished. There were no other occupants at home, and no other injuries were reported.

Barbara Prass set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses for Ostrowski and to help Ortner and Leo once they leave the hospital. Prass is a longtime family friend of the Ortners, being a childhood friend of Steven Ortner’s mother Carolyn. Ortner grew up in the Town of Smithtown and Ostrowski is originally from Centereach.

The GoFundMe Page, titled Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and “Steven,” as of Feb. 22, had 1,400 donors and raised more than $90,000.

In a phone interview, Prass said that Orner’s parents, Carolyn and Clayton, returned to Long Island from the Carolinas as soon as they were notified Friday and have been able to see him and the baby. Prass said it’s a painful time and something that one can see on the news but can never imagine going through. 

“There are no words,” she said.

Prass said at first the parents were told they wouldn’t be able to visit the hospital due to COVID-19, but finally were given the go ahead to visit with Ortner and Leo.

She said Ortner was able to speak the first day when his parents called him, but he was hoarse and medicated. The father has third-degree burns on his head, face and back of arms. His head had to be bandaged, and the other day the father was put on a ventilator. At first, he asked the family to come and pick up Leo.

“I don’t even think he knew Leo was admitted.” she said, adding the baby is still in the hospital with second-degree burns to his forehead and hands. He also has a collapsed lung.

Ortner is now on a ventilator and doctors are monitoring his organs, also his vision as it was blurry, Prass said.

She said from what the parents could gather when talking with their son, Ostrowski handed the baby to Ortner. According to the family friend, he told his parents, “I had to save the baby. I couldn‘t get back to Lisa. I tried.”

Prass said she told Carolyn Ortner that she is sure Ostrowski died protecting her baby.

“It’s just the worst nightmare,” she said. “I hope Steven can live through that.”

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Prass said she and others are trying to find a place where people can drop off clothes and baby items as many community members have offered to do so.

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File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad and Arson Section detectives are investigating a fire that killed an East Setauket woman and injured a man and infant in the early morning hours of Feb. 18.

Sixth Precinct officers responded to the home, located on Old Town Road, after a 911 caller reported a fire at the location at 12:01 a.m. Stephen Ortner, a resident of the home, was able to escape through a second-floor window onto a roof ledge and hand his 10-month-old son to a passerby below, who then handed the child to rescuers. Ortner was then able to climb down to the ground, according to SCPD.

According to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager, Ortner tried to get back inside to help the child’s mother, Lisa Ostrowski. However, when department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw him, he advised the father not to do so as the house was engulfed in flames. Ortner then jumped and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski, 31, the mother of the child, was not able to escape the home and was found dead once the fire was extinguished. Stephen Ortner, 30, and his son Leo Ortner were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where the father was treated for serious injuries and his child for non-life-threatening injuries.

There were no other occupants of the home and no other injuries were reported.

A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be non-criminal in nature.

Ortner and Ostrowski’s aunt Barbara Iannuzzi-Prass set up a GoFundMe page, Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and Steven. As of Feb. 19, more than $42,000 was raised from nearly 600 people.

Ianuzzi-Prass wrote on the page that Ortner and Ostrowski were engaged. She reported that both Ortner and his son were in the ICU with severe burns and in critical but stable condition.

“Lisa will need a proper funeral and Steven and Leo will need to restart their lives once they are out of the hospital,” Ianuzzi-Prass wrote.

Just a few of the cookies designed by Kim Carter of Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the pandemic, small business owners have been looking for ways to get customers’ attention. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a local bakery is providing an option that stands out from the average box of chocolates.

Kim Carter, of Rolling Pin, holds one of the cookies she decorated. Photo by Rita J. Egan

When people first walk into Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket they’ll spy on the shelves colorful cookies wrapped in individual clear bags. The works of art are created by Kim Carter, the bakery’s decorator, who is currently busy preparing cookies for Valentine’s Day featuring cute couples, colorful lovebirds, adorable animals and more. Every holiday for about eight years, Carter said she comes up with novelty cookies for customers to purchase to give away as gifts and Feb. 14 is no different.

When Evelyn Haegele began working at the bakery a few months ago, she was floored by her new co-worker’s talents. Her cookies are “just incredible,” she said. “Each one is a work of art. I felt like, ‘Kim, you really deserve to be noticed.’”

Carter has been working for the bakery, which is owned by David Dombroff, for 13 of the nearly 27 years it has been open. The decorator said as each holiday approaches she looks for inspiration by searching on the internet. She said each cookie takes a different amount of time to create. Making the sweet treats involves a few steps, from first baking them to then cutting them into different shapes. She then creates backgrounds for each cookie by dipping it in a color she has chosen. After the background is ready, she creates the outline for the cookie and fills it in freehand.

Just a few of the cookies designed by Kim Carter of Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“It takes practice and there has to be the right consistency of the icing,” Carter said. “If not, it will be running or too soft or too hard to squeeze.”

In addition to cookies, Carter decorates cakes, too. Before she started working for Rolling Pin, she worked for various bakeries and has 20 years of experience in the field. Carter’s decorating talent is one that naturally came to her.

“Since I was a kid I just liked art,” she said. “Then, one day, I said, ‘Hey, I can decorate a cake. I see people doing it. I can do it.’”

Her favorite holiday cookies are the ones she makes for Easter, Halloween and Christmas, and the decorator said she feels bad during Father’s Day because it’s one of the holidays that’s difficult to come up with themes that would be fitting for a cookie.

The bakery also takes custom orders for parties and showers. Sometimes, Carter said, the shapes are unique, and she creates a temporary cookie cutter out of tin until she can find one to buy.

Haegele said her favorite cookies since she started working at the bakery are the Halloween and Christmas cookies, including one that was shaped like a snow globe with sugar that looked like glass.

“What she did was amazing,” Haegele said.

 

The Rolling Pin bakery is located at 1387 Route 25A, East Setauket.

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A recent photo of the pond that is now filled with sediment from road runoff from stormwater. Photo from George Hoffman

A stalled project in the Three Village community is finally moving forward.

In 2016, former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured a $1 million grant for the Town of Brookhaven. The funds were for a water quality improvement at East Setauket Pond Park, which lies on the western side of Se-Port Delicatessen on Route 25A. The town is slated to add $360,000, according to the Highway Superintendent’s office.

According to Laurie Vetere, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, the work that was supposed to begin in 2018 is finally underway. On Sept. 16, the Town of Brookhaven held a pre-bidding meeting on the site for the repair of the failing bulkhead at the Shore Road park. Bids are due to the town on Oct. 14.

The project, in addition to the reconstruction of the park’s bulkhead, will also include dredging the pond to remove sediment, removing phragmites and redesigning the stormwater conveying system, which will catch contaminated sediments and floatables before they enter the pond. Stormwater from Route 25A can wash into the pond, while the current water treatment structure is faulty and allows sediment to build up. The stormwater then goes into the harbor. Sediment can include sand that’s put down on the roads, pet waste and items that fall off of trucks and cars.

Bids for other projects will be held at a later date. The restructured stormwater conveying system would enable the sediment to go into a catch basin and then settle, allowing only the water to go into the harbor.

“It will prevent bacteria and other sediment from going into the pond and then into the harbor,” Vetere said.

She added Hurricane Ida exacerbated the problem. The task force’s main objective was “to call attention to the harbor and what needed to be done” after feeling it was being neglected.

“This was one of our first projects,” the co-founder said. “We’re all excited about it and now, five years later, it’s finally coming to fruition.”

Vetere said the goal after sediment and phragmite removal is to add some native planting that won’t obscure the pond. The hope for the future is to add more plants to the park and walkways to make it more accessible.

George Hoffman, president of the Three Village Civic Association and a harbor task force co-founder, agreed that the restoration would improve water quality. He added the work would be “the first step in revitalizing Setauket’s neglected downtown district.”

The harbor and pond is important to the history of Setauket, he said, which once was the commercial center of Setauket. He added Roe Tavern was once just a block from the harbor pond. The tavern, which was relocated to another location in East Setauket, is known for providing George Washington lodging in 1790.

“The original settlers in the mid-17th century landed at Setauket Harbor and founded a settlement that became Setauket,” he said. “The renovation of the pond and park will help us reconnect the pond to the downtown area.”

A farm complex broke out into flames Tuesday; Left: Seven Seas Construction helps combat the fire in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Setauket Fire Department

By Julianne Mosher & Rita J. Egan

When a fire broke out at a horse complex in Setauket Tuesday morning, more than a dozen different fire departments came together and helped.

One of those volunteers was Thomas Lund, owner of Seven Seas Construction Co. in Port Jefferson. 

Lund, who is also a volunteer firefighter with the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said he was aware of what was going on a town over and was gearing up to drive to work in Strong’s Neck when the fire broke out. 

“The fire happened to be sort of along the way. So, I figured I would bring the barge over,”  he said. “I knew they were bringing the fire boat, and I figured I could be a solid platform for them to work off of.”

While dozens upon dozens of fire trucks headed to the flames, along with the fire boat in the harbor, Lund said the team ended up using the water pump that he uses for dock building with his company. 

Photo from PJFD

“We were able to supply water until the fire broke out there,” he said. “At the very least we could give a hand because I knew it would be a big operation — a very small part of it, but I figured we could at least do something to help and we were able to, so it was great.” 

He added that for about 45 minutes, he and his fellow fighters stretched a line from his equipment on the deck, connecting it to another line at the dock. 

“It was a big operation from the start,” he said.

The fire initially broke out at 10 a..m Sept. 21 at 23 Brewster Lane, according to Setauket Fire Department Chief Scott Gressin. The SFD received mutual aid in excess of 16 surrounding departments.

The chief said a 19,000 square-feet structure, that was once used as an interior horse-riding arena, had heaving smoke and fire could be seen coming from multiple sides as firefighters arrived on the scene.

Gressin said the first approach was an offensive one; however, considering the fire load inside of the building, the first responders had to take a defensive approach.

There were no horses in the structure as it has not been used as a riding arena in some time. Gressin said horses in a nearby stable were under no threat. Two firefighters with burns were treated and released from the hospital.

Wednesday morning firefighters and investigators were still at the site. 

“It continues to be an active fire scene with a hazardous material incident involving buried propane tanks,” Gressin said. “I have multiple agencies working to mitigate the problem.”

Photo from PJFD

He said the SFD is coordinating with the Town of Brookhaven and Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. At this time, he cannot anticipate when the investigation will be completed.

Brookhaven’s Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Mehrman said the origin and cause investigation was concluded Tuesday. He said the reason was human error as an electrical conductor that shouldn’t have been energized was. Two electricians who received electrical shocks were transported to the hospital. Mehrman did not have their present status at press time.

Mehrman said the intensity of the fire caused two 1,000-gallon propane tanks to leak. Even though they are underground, the valving is above. He said HazMat technicians are on the scene to control the flow. The fire marshal said neighbors are not in any danger because the propane is being burned off which means no gas is accumulating.  

Many North Shore residents spent their Thursday cleaning up after remnants of Tropical Depression Ida pummeled the Island Wednesday night. In addition to the storm, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the North Shore of Suffolk County.

According to PSEG Long Island, the hardest-hit areas on the Island include Northport, Ridge, Lloyd Harbor and Huntington.

Huntington

In the Town of Huntington, flooding outside of the Huntington Sewage Treatment Plant on Creek Road left several motorists stranded, according to a press release from the town. STP staff accessed the facility via payloader late in the evening on Sept.1. During the peak of high tide, STP staff were unable to access the plant from the main entrance on Creek Road or from the rear entrance near the Mill Dam gates.

 “We actually had to take a payloader out to the Creek Road entrance to bring one of our employees into the plant last night,” said John Clark, the town’s director of Environmental Waste Management. “Several cars, including a police vehicle, were stuck on Creek Road and New York Avenue — at least one driver (a police officer) had to be removed via boat by the Huntington Fire Department.”  

Steve Jappell, a wastewater treatment plant operator at the STP facility, operated the payloader and assisted fellow employee Joe Lombardo and the police officer, who was ultimately transported from the scene by the Huntington Fire Department in a rescue boat. 

“Thank you to the Huntington Fire Department, as well as Centerport, Halesite and Northport fire departments, who also arrived to assist other stranded motorists on Creek Road, and to our quick-thinking staff at the plant,” said town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

According to the press release, the area received its largest rain event in nearly 20 years between 7 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. The town reported that 6.29 inches fell during the 6 ½ hours.

While the STP usually processes around 1.8 million gallons per day, between 6 a.m. Sept. 1 and 6 a.m. Sept. 2 it processed more than 3.8 million gallons. According to the town, the plane “will continue to experience above average flow rates over the next two days as groundwater intrusion and sump pump activity contribute to the increased volumes.” 

Town officials also said there were 26 reports of flooding mostly in Huntington; 29 reports of downed trees and branches; 16 reports of large pieces, sections and layers of asphalt ripped away, five manhole covers washed aside and one possible sinkhole was reported in Northport as asphalt washed away on Oleander Drive.

As for town facilities both golf courses had some flooding and were closed Sept. 2, and Town Hall had about ½ inch of flooding in the basement.

Smithtown

According to Smithtown Public Information Officer Nicole Gargiulo, there was flooding in the Smithtown Town Hall basement; however, there was no other damage to equipment or facilities in the town.

During the peak of the storm, the town received calls about flooded roads, but the streets were cleared as of the morning of Sept. 2. 

Callahan’s Beach sustained damage, according to Gargiulo. The beach had already been closed due to damage after a storm in the early morning hours of Aug. 27. 

Stony Brook University

Students in the Mendelsohn Community of Stony Brook University, which is located on the North end of campus off of Stadium Drive, were the SBU students most affected by the storm. According to communications sent out by the university, while other areas of the campus experienced flooding conditions, Mendelsohn was the most affected and students needed to be relocated.

Also affected by the storm was the Student Brook Union, and the building is closed for damage assessment and cleanup. The university held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated student union building last week. Employees who work in the building were asked to work remotely Sept. 2.

In an email from Rick Gatteau, vice president for Students Affairs, and Catherine-Mary Rivera, assistant vice president for Campus Residences, “the Mendelsohn buildings have no power due to 4-6 feet of water in the basement, resulting in a power failure to the building.  At this time, it is unsafe to be in the building while our teams pump out the water, assess the damage, and determine the timeline for repairs.”

Mendelsohn residents were not required to attend class on Sept. 2.

Three Village 

During the storm, the historic Thompson House in East Setauket took in 33 inches of water in its basement. Some of the water rose up to the first floor of the 1709 structure.

The building, which belongs to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, will need to have the water pumped out, according to WMHO President Gloria Rocchio. After the water is pumped out, a cleanup company will have more work ahead of them to prevent any more damage.

According to the National Weather Service, 6.86 inches of rain fell in Setauket. The NWS reported that it was the highest rainfall total on Long Island.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dunaief.