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Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a two-vehicle crash that killed a Centerport man Nov. 6.

Tyler Gomes was driving a 2007 Subaru eastbound on Cuba Hill Road in Greenlawn when he lost control of his vehicle, crossed into the westbound lane and struck a 2016 Toyota 4Runner, driven by Allison Raich, at approximately 9:35 a.m.

Gomez, 26, who was alone in his vehicle, was transported to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Raich, 33, of East Northport, and her 9-month-old son were transported to Huntington Hospital where Raich was treated for broken bones and the child was evaluated and released.

Both vehicles were impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

Greenlawn residents rallied before Huntington Town officials Oct. 17 seeking answers to their questions about proposed plans for a group home on Cuba Hill Road.

More than a dozen community members spoke out at the town board meeting in which the Northport-based nonprofit K.I.D.S. Plus presented plans for an 8,000-square-foot group home for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Residents raised concerns about traffic, noise, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area, but ultimately found themselves with more questions than answers.

“I’m really trying hard not to have the knee-jerk reaction of not in my backyard,” said Manan Shah, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner. “We want to be partners. We want to understand. But to ask us to give you an 8,000-square-foot home without giving us information is unfair.”

Sergio Gallardo, of Greenlawn, said the Cuba Hill Road residents weren’t given an opportunity to speak with K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Topel to learn what types of disabilities the home’s residents would have or review the business plans.

“We assumed you would have sat down with the people who live in the area prior to this hearing,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “Obviously, that didn’t happen.”

Topel, a Northport resident and member of the Northport school district’s board of education, is a well-known advocate for children with special needs as she has spoken publicly on several occasions about her son, Brandon, who is diagnosed with autism. She explained her “dream” plan is to build a group home for eight adults, 21 years of age and older, on the 2-acre wooded lot. The house would have an administrator/coordinator on site 24/7 to oversee the health and safety of residents in addition to a rotating staff of specialists and caregivers based on individual residents’ needs, according to Topel.

“There is a waiting list in New York state of greater than 11,000 people who need homes and we are trying to mitigate the problem,” she said. “We are trying to provide assistance for parents of children, young adults and adults who need a supportive independent place to live.”

However, residents were quick to point out that the K.I.D.S. Plus home would not be the first facility of its type in community.

“Within a half-mile of my home in any direction, and my neighbors as well, there are three group homes already — this would be a fourth,” said William Whitcomb, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner of 10 years. “Regardless of the nature of the residents, four is simply too much.”

Another major concern voiced repeatedly was the proposed size of the group home in comparison to the existing homes. Neighbors expressed fears that it would alter the area’s character, giving it a more commercial feel.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Jules Smilow, a resident of Darryl Lane, expressed sympathy, saying that a group home that was more commensurate in size to the existing residences would be more agreeable.

Many Greenlawn property owners, including Rebecca Gutierrez and Stephen Wuertz, pointed to the three existing group homes in the area with concerns of noise from handicapped transportation and delivery trucks, increased traffic and possible behavior incidents involving future residents.

“I think one of the things that is happening here is some people don’t know what disability looks like and what it is all about,” said George Wurzer, a licensed clinical social worker.

Wurzer said he operates a number of group homes for children diagnosed with autism. While many were met by resistance  from their surrounding communities at first, he said that over time there was more acceptance and the neighbors learned more about developmental disabilities from the experience.

“Tammie’s vision is the next evolutionary stage in helping people with disabilities,” Wurzer said.

Petrone admitted it was, in part, the town’s fault that residents did not have critical information to fairly evaluate the group home proposal. He directed Anthony Aloisio, the director of planning and environment, to arrange for a community meeting between residents and Topel.

Topel has posted a proposed blueprint of the building on the K.I.D.S. Plus Facebook page. There are several upcoming public meetings to provide those interested  with more information Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at Signature Premier Properties in East Northport, and Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Cause Cafe in Fort Salonga.

Owners will be required to keep companions on a leash

Stock photo at top; file photo above from Stephen Jimenez; photo at left by Sara-Megan Walsh Dog owners in the Town of Huntington can now walk their dogs on leashes in most parks. Stock photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The dog days of summer are here as Huntington residents and their canine companions are now welcome to  enjoy a stroll in most local parks.

Huntington Town Board voted unanimously at their Aug. 15 meeting to amend town code to allow on-leash walking of dogs at town parks.

Dog owners in the Town of Huntington can now walk their dogs on leashes in most local parks, like those at Frazer Drive Park in Greenlawn. File photo from Stephen Jimenez

“It is the highlight of my day to take my dog for a long walk,” said Ginny Munger Kahn, president of the Huntington-based Long Island Dog Owners Group. “I don’t want to do it just in my neighborhood on the street, but I want to be able to walk my dog in a beautiful public park. It’s been frustrating over the years on Long Island as many towns don’t allow it.”

The town code changes now permit on-leash walking of dogs in town parks and trails on a leash that’s 4-to-6 feet in length.

Dog owners are required to immediately pick up and dispose of any waste. It will remain illegal for dog owners to bring their canine companions into the more developed areas of town parks: all playgrounds, picnic areas, courts and sports fields, campgrounds, near educational area programs and all town beaches with the exception of paved areas and boardwalks.

The exceptions to the new changes are that no dogs will be allowed at Huntington’s Heckscher Park or Centerport’s Betty Allen Twin Ponds Nature Park.

Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter said that based on recommendations made by the Huntington Greenway Trails Advisory Committee in a letter dated May 24, town board members excluded  Heckscher Park due to its continuous public events and the nature park due to  its primary use as a fishing site, as casting of lures could pose  safety risks.

A sign at Frazer Drive Park in Greenlawn tells visitors a list of rules for walking dogs in Huntington parks. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The decision to exclude Heckscher Park, one of the more widely used town parks, was not unanimous.

“We thought that Heckscher Park would greatly benefit from the presence of leashed dogs as it would deter the geese from fouling the grass there,” Munger Kahn said. “Unfortunately, the town was not ready to make that change yet.”

She pointed out that Northport Village had similar issues with a population of Canadian geese making a mess of Northport Village Park, which based on her personal experience has been largely resolved by allowing on-leash canines and their companions to stroll the grounds.

“We hope that once the policy is put into effect and proven successful that we will be able to revisit the issue with the town,” Munger Kahn said.

The push for changes to Huntington’s park regulations started as a request made by the trails committee in early 2016 for uniform park standards.

“It was kind of crazy to have some parks in the Town of Huntington allow on-leash dogs and the vast majority of town-owned parks not to allow dogs on a leash,” Munger Kahn said. “This was confusing to people. The thought was if we adopted standards, a policy more closely aligned with Suffolk County’s policy, it would make enforcement easier.”

The town co-owns 10 parks with Suffolk County, including Knolls Park, Hilaire Woods Park, Fuchs Pond Preserve, Paumanok Wetlands Preserve, Elwood-Greenlawn Woods, Breezy Park and Lewis Oliver Farm. Under county code, licensed dogs were permitted on trails in all county parks on a leash not more than 6 feet in length. The new laws approved by Huntington now fall more in line with the county code.

Meghan Chiodo gets to know her new service dog Polly, who was given to her thanks to Canine Companions for Independence. Photo by Jenna Lennon

By Jenna Lennon

After interviews, reference forms, applications and a year and a half of waiting, 10th-grader Meghan Chiodo from Greenlawn was finally able to meet her assistance dog, Polly.

Meghan and Polly were introduced thanks to Canine Companions for Independence Wednesday, July 26, at the nonprofit’s headquarters in Medford.

Polly, a black female Labrador-Golden Retriever will help Meghan with many different tasks aside from becoming a loyal and loving companion. Meghan was born with spina bifida and has little to no feeling or control of her legs from her knees down, so Polly will be especially helpful with giving her all the assistance she needs.

“Meghan is sort of an ideal candidate in the sense that she’s in that age where she wants to be more independent and the dog can really help provide that to her especially as she’s getting into her later years of high school,” Jessica Reiss-Cardinali, the participant program manager for the Northeast Region of Canine Companions said in an interview.

Meghan said Polly will help with tasks like “bringing my laundry from the living room to my room … the dog can carry something or I can carry it and the dog can open the door,” she said at the event. “I think those are the two [commands] I’ll probably use the most.”

Meghan’s mother Kerri said Polly will be a great assistance around the house.

“The wheelchair is now in our home, so she doesn’t have her hands free always,” her mom said. “So the dog will provide an extra set of hands for her for a little more independence and companionship. That’s going to be a big one. She’s one of four children. She’s the youngest, two are leaving off for college, so it’s nice to have a buddy.”

Canine Companions, the nation’s largest provider for trained assistance dogs, is an organization founded in 1975 aimed at providing service dogs, hearing dogs, skilled companions and facility dogs to people with disabilities free of charge. The Northeast Regional Center for CCI opened in Medford in 1989 and has since placed 861 Canine Companion teams together.

Golden Retriever, Labrador and Golden-Lab puppies are trained by volunteer puppy raisers who provide them with a safe and happy living environment, a healthy diet, obedience training and socialization.

When they are about a year and a half old, the puppies then receive professional training at a Canine Companion training center for six to nine months, learning 40 advanced commands. Then, they are matched with a child or an adult with a disability.

“Four times a year we invite people that are on our waiting list to come, and they stay with us here in Medford,” said John Bentzinger, the public relations and marketing coordinator for the Northeast region of Canine Companions. “They stay at our facilities, and we call it ‘team training.’ The dogs are already fully trained, but we’re teaching the people how to use the commands and how to care for the dog.”

Participants spend the first few days getting acquainted with the different dogs and with the commands necessary to interact with them.

On the third day of the two-week program, the matches are revealed to the participants. Matches are based on the interactions that trainers and program coordinators see during the first few days of the program between the dogs and the participants, as well as what the participants need from the dogs.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle where everybody has to fit together,” Reiss-Cardinali said. “We like to say this is like a 10-year commitment, so if you’re going to sign on for 10 years, we’d like it to be something that’s going to work for you. It’s a very happy time, and for the staff too. We’re all crying in the room because there’s a lot of work that goes into that 20 minutes.”

As for the matchup between Polly and Meghan, Reiss-Cardinali said it was a no brainer.

“They’re sort of at the same stage in life,” she said. “Polly is just coming out of young adulthood so I really feel like as Meghan grows, it will be a really nice way for them to grow together.”

By the day that the matches are revealed, participants in the program have already learned several commands to use as part of their team training with their new companion.

“We did sit, down, heel, let’s go, side, release, wait, kennel and okay,” Meghan said. “That’s it so far.”

Her mother said that’s no small feat.

“That’s it so far, but that’s a lot in two days … I think today we get six whole new commands, so that’s a lot,” she said. “The instructors are incredibly patient. You’ve got so many different people with so many different needs, and they’re accommodating all of us. I’m really impressed with this whole facility and what they do here. It’s incredible. These dogs are amazing.”

Meghan and Polly and the rest of their Team Training Class will graduate Aug. 4 at 2:30 at the Genesis Center in Medford.

To learn more about canine companions visit www.cci.org.

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Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating the shooting of a man in Greenlawn early Wednesday morning.

Omar Fuentes was standing with a group of people in front of 283A Broadway when police said a man approached the group, fired shots then fled on foot south of Broadway. Fuentes, 30, of Greenlawn, was struck twice in the hip and transported by Greenlawn Fire Department to Huntington Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The suspect was described as short, thin and was wearing all black.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS.

Communities from across Suffolk County gathered on a wet Monday in support of the men and women who served our country to commemorate Memorial Day.

Members of the Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244. Photo from Bob Santos

By Victoria Espinoza

Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244 has been giving back to the community since its inception in 1946. From returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, to student outreach programs designed to improve leadership skills, to efforts to recover veterans’ remains, the post’s work is seemingly never finished.

Members of the post are actively involved in national and local efforts to help improve the lives of veterans, though they also work to locate remains of veterans from conflicts as far back as the Spanish American War of 1898.

For their dedication to the community and veterans alike, Times Beacon Record News Media has chosen the members of the Greenlawn American Legion Post as People of the Year.

The post has been involved in the Missing in America Project since 2009, a national nonprofit organization that works to locate and identify the unclaimed cremated remains of American veterans to provide a final resting place as a sign of honor and respect to those who have served the United States.

John Calderelli, a member of the Greenlawn post as well as a national representative of the Missing in America Project, said he felt compelled to work with the organization once he heard there were veteran remains stored in funeral homes across the country.

“That bothered me — it really didn’t sit well with me,” Calderelli said in a phone interview. “When you go into the service and make that agreement, there is an unwritten covenant that you will be buried in a federal cemetery with all your comrades in arms. To think veterans are lying on shelves for over 100 years. I think that’s wrong.”

Calderelli said he was outraged and couldn’t believe how many veterans were unidentified — and he still can’t believe how many more veterans he’s found since then. “I feel lucky I can help them,” he said.

Members of the Greenlawn American Legion Post smile. Photo by Bob Santos

The post has helped lay to rest at least 100 soldiers, including two from the Civil War. They organize burial ceremonies for all the veterans they find. Some ceremonies have included rider-less horses, Civil War re-enactors, and dove releases.

The Greenlawn post actively works with Sail Ahead, a nonprofit organization that uses sailing and the ocean therapeutically to help veterans with various service-related physical disabilities and illnesses, including traumatic brain injury and PTSD. For the past two years, the post has worked with them to take veterans out sailing for a day of relaxation on the Long Island Sound. This past July, more than 140 veterans and family members enjoyed a day of sailing and a barbeque at Centerport Yacht Club.

Bob Santos, a past commander of the Greenlawn post, said the day is for both enjoying and relaxing. Santos, who was awarded Legionare of the Year for the 10th District of New York for 2016, said he was sitting with a veteran who was a victim of PTSD and as soon as the boats took off, he loosened up.

“Before long, he was laughing and joking the way we do,” Santos said in an interview. “I saw him change. It’s a beautiful event.”

Santos said the post is working with Sail Ahead to develop more frequent sailing trips that allow veterans to take each other sailing on donated ships.

Bruce Blanco leads the American Legion Riders chapter in Greenlawn. The group of motorcyclists; who escort military units returning home from combat tours overseas, conducts cross-country fundraising events for wounded warriors and raises funds for countless local, state and national charities.

In 2016 alone, the riders have participated in more than 250 missions.

“I never want to see this disappear,” Blanco said in an interview. “The riders are trying to bring attention to what the American Legion does, and help to try and make it grow.”

The post does more than just support fellow veterans; they also regularly give back to the community with educational programs.

Vets in the Classroom is an annual event that takes place at Oldfield Middle School, where veterans talk to students about their experience of serving their country.

Ken Kirsch served in the U.S. Army as a war dog handler from 1979 to 1990 and is also a member of America’s VetDogs, a nonprofit that provides enhanced mobility and renewed independence to veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities through service dogs.

He spoke to students at Oldfield Middle School and said the kids are eager to learn about their time overseas.

“It’s very important for these veterans, especially Vietnam-era veterans, because we were not encouraged to talk about our experiences when we came back.”
—Bob Santos

“The kids were really excited about having us,” Kirsch said in a phone interview.

The program is not only beneficial for students, but for veterans as well.

“It’s very important for these veterans, especially Vietnam-era veterans, because we were not encouraged to talk about our experiences when we came back,” Santos, who served from 1966 to 1970, said. “We came back to a different world. The country changed; the military was blamed for a lot. We were called baby killers. And you shrugged it off; but it left a mark.”

Santos said Americans’ indifference back home was the hardest to deal with.

“We felt that they were indifferent to what we had experienced,” he said. “They couldn’t relate to it, they didn’t want to and they were just glad it was over.”

The former post commander said it’s important veterans talk about it with kids to help heal and teach students about the importance of their service.

The post also sponsors students on a weeklong trip to learn about democracy and build strong leadership skills.

The Boys and Girls State is a program meant for high school juniors travel upstate  and run for office, learn public speaking, create and enforce laws, and actively participate in all phases of creating and running a working government.

The post sponsors the trip and raises money to send as many students as they can every summer from Harborfields High School, Walt Whitman High School, Commack High School and St. Anthony’s High School. They have raised more than $25,000 in recent years alone.

Charlie Armstrong, a legion member who works with the Boys and Girls State program says the experience is priceless for the students.

“We, of course, do a lot to help the veterans in the community, but this is when we get to reach out to the youth and help them, because they are our future,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s nice both ends of the spectrum are being helped. It’s reassuring to know there is a future happening, and these kids are all so enthusiastic about it.”

Armstrong also educates Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the community about flag etiquette and retirement, which includes how to handle and fold a flag and how to properly dispose of one.

“We show the proper respect for the flag and how the flag is seen as a symbol of freedom from oppression to other countries around the world,” he said.

The post has also helped support students who compete in the annual American Legion High School Oratorical Contest, a public speaking contest that awards college scholarships to students.

Current Post Commander Dennis Madden said he thinks the work the post does with the community helps residents look at veterans differently.

“We’re teaching kids about Americanism, what it means to be a dedicated citizen,” Madden said in a phone interview, talking about the school programs they work with. “The general public now sees the veterans in a different light, as citizens to the country rather than military men and women. It shows we’re regular people.”

Huntington Town and Northport Village hosted holiday parades this past weekend to get into the Christmas spirit. Live reindeers, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and fire trucks dressed up in lights paraded through Northport, while over at Huntington, fire departments from all over the North Shore competed in a float contest.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police Second Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that seriously injured a pedestrian in Greenlawn Dec. 1.

Police said a 63-year-old man was attempting to cross Clay Pitts Road when a 2012 Honda Odyssey traveling east at about 9 p.m struck him.

The pedestrian, whose identify is being withheld pending notification of next of kin, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. The driver of the Honda, Gigi Franklin, 54, of Greenlawn, was not injured.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check and the investigation is ongoing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Second Squad at 631-854-8252.

Residents from across the North Shore gathered at Veterans Day memorials and parks to pay their respects Nov. 11.