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Middle Country Road

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Photo from MCPL

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Driving along Middle Country Road today, it is hard to imagine that only 100 years ago, this busy four- lane highway with its many intersections, signs, and streetlights started out as little more than a hard-packed dirt road. 

Go back 100 years more, and you’d only see a narrower, rutted path. We take our nicely maintained, hard paved roads for granted today, but it wasn’t always such a smooth ride. 

Today’s network of streets and highways have their origins in simple trails which were used by people and wildlife leading to sources of water and shelter. 

These paths measured only two to three-feet wide in places, but they were sufficient for the needs of the times. 

Photo from MCPL

Early English settlers began to use these footpaths as they established homesteads on Long Island, widening and improving these paths, using them as cart-ways to allow for easier travel between their farms. The cart-way needed to be wide enough for a livestock-drawn cart to traverse with ease. In those days a cart would be hauled by cattle, ox, or horsepower.

Those paths were the only way to travel around Long Island until 1703, when the NY General Assembly appointed highway commissioners in King’s County (Brooklyn), Queens County and Suffolk County to direct the building and maintenance of roads “four rods wide.” The roads were simply packed earth, hardened over time by travelers.  It took some time for conditions to improve, and eventually drainage systems were constructed, and logs or planks were laid across some roads to pave them. These log-covered roads were known as “corduroy roads” because of their bumpy surface.

Thirty years after the highway commissions laid out the routes, arranged rights-of-way between existing properties and physical construction took place, Long Island boasted three major thoroughfares: North Country Road, parts of which follow today’s Route 25A; Middle Country Road, now known as Route 25 or Jericho Turnpike; and South Country Road, portions of which serve as Montauk Highway. 

An organized system of roads was needed for many reasons as the population grew. Though most homesteads were self-sufficient at that time, people would barter for goods and gather together to socialize. Mail needed to be delivered across the Island, and prior to the establishment of the U.S. Postal Service in 1775, England’s Royal Mail System was utilized. Before reliably passable roads were built, that mail was delivered from Connecticut by boat. It was faster and easier to travel 19 miles by water than 120 miles overland from New York City.

As the farmland was cultivated and enriched over time, it produced more than one family or village could use and farming became a burgeoning industry. 

Means to transport the surplus produce was required. Farm to Market Road (also called Horseblock Road) filled this need. Farm owners would load their wagons full of fruits and vegetables to ship by rail to New York City.

 The term “horseblock” refers to a block of stone or wood used to help a person climb high enough to mount a horse or to enter a stagecoach with ease. With many homes, farms and taverns located along these miles of roadway, horseblocks were a familiar sight. We call this same Farm to Market Road by its old nickname, Horseblock Road to this day. 

Photo from MCPL

Through the years, several popular taverns and rest stops were located on Horseblock Road. As far back as Revolutionary times, Sam “Horseblock” Smith owned and ran a tavern at the intersection of Horseblock and Middle Country Roads in Centereach.

 A Smith genealogy relates that on March 2, 1806 Sam sold the inn and land to Lake Grove resident, Titus Gould. It appears that part of the tavern was dismantled and moved to another location. Generations later, Alfred Elsmann ran Al’s Tavern, at the corner of Horseblock and Granny Roads. It was advertised in the Patchogue Advance of March 7, 1946 as specializing in home cooking and “the best in beer, wines and liquors,” and was a popular destination for local festivities for several decades.

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Photo from MC Library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Photo from MC Library

The junction of Boyle and Middle Country Roads in Selden was the setting for this early 1940s winter view of the homestead of Wendell Shipman Still (1896-1954) and his wife, Pauline Dare Still (1895-1950). They were married on March 29, 1920 and raised two daughters, Maybelle and Lucille in this home.

Wendell served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and after receiving an honorable discharge in 1919, he returned to Long Island and purchased a truck farm in Selden. Still grew vegetables and raised poultry as a source of income.

By the 1940s, his poultry plant had the capacity to raise 250,000 chickens per year. He was a successful businessman, establishing Wendell Still Enterprises. Later, Still became a wholesale gasoline distributor and retailer of fuel oil and kerosene, as well as marketing various products, including different types of feed and commercial fertilizer.

Wendell was a very civic-minded citizen and a member of the American legion, the Selden Volunteer Fire Department, and the Port Jefferson Yacht Club. He also served as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Selden Public School District. 

Photo from MC Library

Pauline (Dare) Still was a lifelong resident of Selden. She attended public school in there and continued her education at the Patchogue High School. Pauline graduated from Cortland State Teachers College in 1916 and taught in both the Selden and Centereach schools for a period of 12 years. In this charming 1896 photograph, baby Pauline sits with her parents, Samuel and Henrietta (Wicks) Dare. 

Pauline was very active in church, civic and local affairs, serving in the Ladies Auxiliary of the Selden American Legion, the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Coram Trinity, National Society of Daughters of the Union 1861-1865, Order of the Eastern Star and the Coram and Selden Community Clubs. 

She also was one of the founders of the Farmingville Reunion Association and was instrumental in obtaining the Bald Hill School House when it was to be removed in 1929. The Greek Revival Style School House had served the community continuously from 1850 until 1929. Today, the Farmingville Historical society runs educational, recreational and virtual events in the School House and on the property. 

Samuel Dare, Age 16. This image was donated to the library’s collection by Samuel Dare’s great grandson and area resident, Larry Grignon.

Pauline’s father, Samuel Dare (1847-1913) was a Civil War veteran who enlisted in the Union army in 1863 at the age of 16. Samuel was part of the 165th Regiment, 2d Duryea Zouaves, (an elite fighting force) which was a division of the NY Volunteer Infantry. In this portrait, Samuel is dressed a Zouave uniform which included woolen trousers, shirt, waistband, jacket, and traditional tasseled hat.

Samuel was a lifelong member of Selden, active in community affairs, and member of a fraternal organization called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). This group was comprised of members of the Union Army, Navy and Marines who fought in the U. S. Civil War. He was a prominent member of the Selden community for many years, serving as a member of the Brookhaven Board of Trustees, serving as its president from 1894-1897.

Photo from Rage Room

By Chris Cumella

The area could soon have its own rage room — a creation designed for destruction. The local concept was conceived in 2019 by Michael Hellmann, who hopes to start up Rage Room Long Island.

A vacant storefront on Middle Country Road could be on its way to becoming the latest attraction that Selden has to offer its residents and visitors alike. The last hurdle for Hellmann and his crew is obtaining a permit from the Town of Brookhaven. Doing so will solidify their place in the Selden Plaza and create a therapeutic stress release for all who enter.

“We started this project two years ago,” said Hellmann, a Holbrook resident. “It is definitely an intense workout if you want it to be  — you can break a picture of your ex, you can make it whatever you want.”

Derived from Japan, the first rage room opened in 2008, known as The Venting Place. It was created in the wake of the nation’s Great Recession, putting stressed-out workers, students and people from all walks of life in an environment where destruction was therapeutic. Since then, over 60 venues are operating in the U.S. and rising, according to Hellmann.

He said that his premises would include two sizable rooms accompanied by a third, larger room designed for parties and other big groups. Once a waiver is signed, a mechanical arm will hand you a weapon of your choice to arm yourself with —including crowbars, sledgehammers, golf clubs and even pipe wrenches.

“Michael is very creative and is looking at the latest and most innovative methods,” said Michaela Pawluk, social media manager of Rage Room LI. “When you go to other rage rooms, you are just destroying things, but the way that he created it and designed it — it is an entire experience.”

Participants are equipped with thick coveralls and a face shield for bodily protection from the bits of cutlery, furniture and technology scattered throughout a room during their allotted time ranging from 15-30 minutes. For the larger room intended for parties, audiences will have access to larger objects to unload. These include an industrial humidifier and a 4-foot Xerox machine right out of an attorney’s office.

Recycling is the name of Rage Room LI’s game, and Hellmann and his team play strategically when scouting the town’s curbs for discarded objects large enough for further destruction. Once a customer is finished with their session, the leftover scraps are recycled once again in an environmentally conscious effort to avoid sending them to a landfill.

“We are literally getting things off the street,” Hellmann said. “We have a Rage Room LI van, and we drive around the neighborhoods to collect junk off the curb. We love finding things that are technologically based.”

A rage room is designed to be used in any way that customers see fit — from an outlet to unleash anger to a venue for birthday parties. Rage Room LI is attempting to break the stigma around the danger of rage rooms. One of their most significant priorities has been to facilitate a safe environment where people can let endorphins flourish and have fun.

To get up and running at the request of over 900 eager participants via email, Hellmann is seeking a permit from the town to register his business. All town board members have expressed interest in introducing Long Island’s first rage room, except for one hesitant councilmember concerned of misuse or bringing in troubling individuals.

Rage Room LI has seen support from a petition on Change.org to open shop that has garnered 586 signatures as at May 12 out of a goal of 1,000. Aside from the signatures, the purpose of creating the petition was to show local and neighboring residents that it is a worthwhile cause. It is a continuous effort which Pawluk encourages anyone who is interested to add their name to the petition to emphasize community solidarity.

Envisioning opening day leaves Hellmann and his crew optimistic that their business will make a tremendous splash in Selden. Rage Room LI is shaping up to succeed from the positive community feedback, project plans and potentially a permit at its side.

“At some point, people break things whether they want to or not,” Hellmann said. “We are just expressing positivity, that is mainly the goal.”

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Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Over the years, a variety of land developers purchased acreage in the Centereach area even as far back as 1896, despite its distance from New York City. 

It took until the 1940s and 1950s for construction to begin in earnest. 

Shortly after WWII, the Ulrich family developed Cedarwood Park on the north side of Middle Country Road in the vicinity of Elliot Avenue, Lake Grove. Roads were put in and building lots surveyed and improved. The lots sold for $250 each with a down payment of just $10.

The rural landscape of Centereach began to change dramatically in the middle of the 20th century when the Kaplan firm began to build low-priced homes in a development named Dawn Estates. Homes in this development sold for $7,000. 

While the Kaplan brothers were among the first developers, the Krinsky Organization followed them with an even larger project. Fifteen hundred homes were to be built on a 400-acre site, but there were concerns about this project from the start. 

Doubters cited its remote location and the difficulty of obtaining necessary public utilities in what was considered an isolated area. These worries were soon overcome when the Krinsky Organization created its own water company with the capacity to serve 10,000 families. 

In addition, the Long Island Lighting Company agreed to extend its gas lines more than six miles beyond the existing distribution limit, bringing in electricity to serve the new homes.

On Sept. 6, 1953, the front page of the New York Times real estate section featured a picture of the new Eastwood Village exhibit home with its raised-hearth fireplace and its combination living-dining-kitchen area. 

While the first year’s sales were slow, within five years 1,250 homes had been sold. The prices for these homes ranged from $9,990 to $13,500. 

In 1954, Eastwood Village became a multiple builder venture as other builders erected models on already improved building sites. By 1958, 2,500 homes had been sold in the development. Due to expanding job opportunities and the availability of larger houses on bigger sites, increasing numbers of people flocked to the area. 

A study by Klein and Parker Realty in 1954 indicated that 60% of those looking at Eastwood Village came from Queens and Nassau, 20% from Manhattan and the remainder from other boroughs and New Jersey. 

It has been said that so many people came to Centereach from New York City that it became known as “a portion of Brooklyn in Suffolk County.”

In 1957, the American Institute of Architects selected Hausman & Rosenberg’s  Eastwood Village model as a winner in the annual “Homes for Better Living” competition. Cited for its architecture and original design, the home won the award in the A.I.A’s Class A category for merchant-built homes under $15,000.

With the influx of new residents came the need for more services. The first supermarkets in the area were Acme Supermarket, Hills, A&P and the Blue Jay Market. Benkert’s of Centereach and Smiles 5&10 became favorite haunts. 

In 1963, the Prudential Movie Theatre made its debut and the following year, Suffolk Federal Savings moved into its new headquarters on the south side of Middle Country Road. As a variety of stores, shopping centers and businesses appeared, the remaining farms began to fade from the landscape. 

The 400 acres of land described as “a wilderness covered with heavy timber” purchased in 1790 by Isaac Hammond of Coram for 100 pounds sterling ($250) has evolved into the largest Hamlet in the Town of Brookhaven (Three Village Herald, July 15-22, 1977).

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Photo from Middle Country Public Library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Selden schoolchildren sang “America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the ceremony on Nov. 9, 1935, when the cornerstone was laid for the soon-to-be-built new Selden School. 

Photo from Middle Country Library

Sealed within the cornerstone was a copper box containing three local newspapers of the day (the Patchogue Advance, the Argus and the Mid-Island Mail), the year’s school census, a copy of the day’s program, a 1935-minted dime and penny, and an 1885 almanac. 

The new Selden Elementary school was completed in 1936 and replaced the one-room schoolhouse which had served the community from 1898 on. The updated structure contained three classrooms, a principal’s office, a well house, indoor washrooms and an oil-burning heating system. 

Further renovations to the building were undertaken in 1948, which ultimately accommodated almost 50 years of students within its walls. 

The U.S. Army surplus cannon depicted here was purchased after WWII with nickels and dimes saved by the schoolchildren of Selden. 

You’ll see it in front of the building if you drive by 575 Middle Country Road, where Middle Country Public Library Selden stands today.  

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Photo from the Middle Country Library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral routes. The pictures and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

For over 40 years, Aggie’s Bar and Grill (also known as Aggie’s Steakhouse), located on Middle Country Road in Selden, was the “local watering hole” for area residents. 

Aggie’s opened its doors in 1927 and was owned and operated by Agnes O’Hagan, who moved to the United States at age three from Calabria, Italy. Events at Aggie’s and their contributions to community life were a mainstay in Selden during these years. Celebrations like wedding showers, birthday parties, costume balls, amateur nights, card nights and St. Patrick’s Day parties were held there. The staff even formed a shuffleboard team, which participated in local competitions with neighboring teams in the area.  

Saturday nights would find considerable crowds enjoying 45 cent spaghetti and meat sauce, square dancing and other specialty dances with music provided by Aggie’s Brown Jug Mountaineers. An advertisement for a Gala New Year’s Eve Party was placed in the Patchogue Advance of Dec. 25, 1936 to publicize the event, which featured noisemakers, hats and souvenirs, music and entertainment, and a seven-course turkey dinner. Tickets cost $1.00 for this specially licensed nightlong event, which concluded at 8 a.m.  

In the summer of 1939, Aggie’s showed appreciation to their summer patrons by announcing “a surprise” for them on a Saturday night from 10 p.m. until midnight. 

The festivities included dancing to the music of Leonardi and his Club orchestra, and listening to the pride of Harlem, “Singing Sam” and Aggie’s customary entertainer, Eddy Kane. Earlier that summer, Aggie’s advertised their official Ham and Cabbage Summer Opening for the night of July 22 in the July 19, 1939 edition of The Mid-Island Mail. Performers included Don Ritchie and his Rhythm Masters as well as Eddy Kane and Virginia Servidio. 

These are just a few examples of the central role that Aggie’s Steakhouse played in Selden’s social world, bonding its residents in family, friendship and community for more than four decades. 

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File photo

Suffolk County Police 6th Squad detectives are investigating a five-vehicle crash that killed a man in Centereach Jan. 30.

Ant’Wan Pevy was driving a 2011 Kia sedan northbound on Nicolls Road when he suffered a medical event that caused him to lose control of the vehicle at approximately 5:30 p.m. The Kia struck a 2016 Nissan SUV being operated by Zachary Morrison that was westbound at the traffic light at the intersection of Middle Country Road and Nicolls Road. Pevy’s vehicle also struck a 2000 Jeep, a 2015 Audi, and a 2018 Mercedes, all at the intersection.

Morrison, 29, of Holbrook, was pronounced dead on the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. Pevy was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for evaluation. Pevy, 25, of Ronkonkoma, was charged with Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle and will be arraigned at a later date. There were no other injuries reported from the scene.

All five vehicles involved in the crash were impounded for safety checks. Anyone with information on the crash is asked to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

Teenagers across the North Shore have been seen playing chicken with motorists by cycling into oncoming traffic, popping wheelies in the middle of the road and more. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County lawmakers are looking to tackle bicyclists who have been intimidating drivers across Long Island. 

There have been several different reports of reckless bicyclists putting themselves and others in danger on the road, which included a group of teenagers who harassed a Terryville gym over the summer. 

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she had a “terrifying” experience first-hand a few years ago. While traveling down Route 25A at night, a person wearing all black began popping wheelies toward her car in the middle of the street.

“I wasn’t going fast,” she said. “I chose to stop in the middle of the roadway. It was really scary, and whoever it was, was recklessly trying to frighten me.”

Back in September, county Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) introduced a “reckless biking” bill, which he advanced from Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) who passed away from cancer that same month.

After talking with other towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, Sunderman said that although he represents the South Shore, the issue is widespread across the Island. 

“Other areas that we spoke to [with a bill in place] have already seen a decline in reckless biking,” he said. 

If Sunderman’s bill passes, it would prohibit cyclists from trick riding or weaving through traffic. Violators could also see their bikes impounded, receive $250 fines, or spend 15 days in jail. 

And on the North Shore, Hahn said she had been receiving complaints from other people from the area regarding similar concerns of packs of children doing similar things on Route 112, Nesconset Highway and Middle Country Road. 

“It’s dangerous,” she said. “The police aren’t able to do very much. They need a tool to confiscate the bike to individuals who do this.”

But along with concerned residents reaching out, Hahn said she was hearing criticism over Sunderman’s bill from bicyclist groups who use their bikes recreationally. 

“The intent is very good, and it is needed to curb this kind of [bad] activity,” she said. “The groups absolutely agree with the fact that anyone who rides in a pack and pops wheelies in traffic, that should happen. But because they’re experienced bicyclists, they see the real danger every day.”

Hahn said she is in full support of Sunderman’s reckless biking bill, but there were a few small pieces to his legislation that she wanted to suggest improvements. Her bill was laid out on Nov. 4. 

“Suffolk County is notorious for not being safe for bicyclists,” she said. “The purpose of my law is just to make drivers aware — give the cyclists the room, close your door when someone is passing you, people are not looking out.”

Her bill, which will go to public hearing on Dec. 1, will help drivers of cars and bikes be more educated of the dangers they both could face if they choose to act irresponsibly. A decision, or amending, of Sunderman’s bill will be decided on Dec. 15. 

People rallied in Ridge June 25 to decry the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Route 25, known as Middle Country Road, which crosses through several hamlets in the center of Brookhaven Town, has long gone without fixes to its cracked pavement and massive potholes. Civics, town officials and some state officials said the New York State Department of Transportation has reneged on promises to finally repair the broken asphalt this year.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, the president of the Middle Island Civic Association, calls on New York DOT to pave Middle Country Road, though the DOT claims it never had such plans. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I have been at many meetings over the years to pave Middle Country Road, and last year they did promise us it would be done,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The issue has not been addressed for so long, this roadway now requires complete reconstruction. And you know why? Because cheap is expensive in the long run.” 

The road runs parallel to its sister highway Route 25A, which just recently received repaving in Rocky Point. Route 25, on the other hand, has received only minor patches in the past several years, officials said.

Town of Brookhaven officials said the state DOT had promised it would repave the section of road from Mount Sinai-Coram Road to Wading River Hollow Road in Calverton by July. However, officials said recent word from the state said it likely would not happen this year.

At a press conference held in Ridge June 25, state and town officials stood alongside local civic representatives and members of local fire departments calling for the road to be repaved.

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said the road’s uneven surface can make cars swerve and cause accidents. It also greatly impacts ambulance drivers who may be carrying injured people in the back of their vehicles.

“I have been here since 1991, and I haven’t seen it be repaved since then,” Keiser said. 

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district partially covers a section of the state highway, said he was copied in on an email with state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that the construction company wished to do the road in a different order, starting with a part of the road in Nassau. The DOT is repaving Route 25B in the Town of North Hempstead and Route 107 in Oyster Bay as part of the state’s repaving project.

“My office got a response from DOT that they’ve had more complaints over in that direction in Nassau,” he said. “The only reason the complaints stopped here, which were more voluminous than anything in Nassau, is because we were told the construction was coming.”

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said Route 25 has not been repaved as long as he’s been in the district, since 1991. Photo by Kyle Barr

The press conference also brought in a measure of politics, even more emphasized during an election year. No local Democratic elected officials were there at the press conference. Members of the Town Board and local state Assembly members criticized the governor for what they called a dismissive attitude to the plight of local infrastructure.

Palumbo also referenced several state officials in Nassau who are seeking reelection this year for why construction was starting on that side of the Island. Palumbo is the Republican candidate looking to take the state Senate District 1 seat once LaValle vacates it at the end of the year.

In a statement, LaValle said, “My office has worked closely with the civics and constituents for well over a year in an attempt to fix the safety issues along this stretch of Route 25. We were given a commitment by DOT that repair and paving would begin this summer and completed in the 2020 calendar year. It is unacceptable that the DOT would do an about-face and put this project off for a year, especially in light of the fact that emergency vehicles cannot safely travel this stretch of road and driver safety is a major concern.”

In response, Stephen Canzoneri, a DOT spokesperson, said the resurfacing project on Route 25 has always been the end of 2021, though there will be spot repairs on the highway for this year.

“The resurfacing of Route 25 was never anticipated to be completed this year,” he said. “In addition, the department plans to make temporary repairs to sections of Route 25 ahead of this winter.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said residents have been contacting her office for years about the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

However, that directly contradicts comments sent to local officials last year. New York State DOT sent a letter April 8, 2019, to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) which stated that the resurfacing project on Route 25 has been “accelerated to a bid opening in early 2020” with a going out to bid in March and a schedule to start construction in spring of 2020 for the described section of the highway. 

The letter was signed by DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager Glenn Murrell. Anker said in reaching out to DOT officials, there seems to have been a mix up on their end for why she and other officials were told it was in the pipe for 2020. She added this issue has been constantly on electives’ minds, with more than a few letters being sent to the DOT over the past several years. 

“I will continue to follow this intensely as this has been going on for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully we can see the whole road done sometime soon.”

File photo

Suffolk County detectives are investigating a crash that killed a motorcyclist in Centereach Oct. 1.

Steven Benjamin was operating a 2004 KTM motorcycle westbound on Middle Country Road when he collided with a 2010 Jeep Liberty that had been traveling eastbound on Middle Country Road and was making a left turn onto Eastwood Boulevard at approximately 8:05 p.m.

Benjamin, 26, of Selden, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the Jeep, a 17-year-old female from Selden, remained at the scene and was not injured.

The motorcycle and the Jeep were impounded for safety checks. Detectives are asking anyone with information about this incident to call the 6th squad at 631-854-8652.