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Smithtown

Rev. Demetrios Calogredes, a Greek Orthodox priest, above, blessed the lot during the ceremony as Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Vincent Puleo, town clerk, look on. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A new 55-and-older rental apartment project has been in the works in Nesconset, and as of last week, ground has officially been broken with plans full speed ahead.

Town officials joined developers from Hauppauge-based The Northwind Group Oct. 15 to show their support for The Preserve at Smithtown. Alongside the recently cleared lot off of Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset near Chestnut Street, several members from the We Are Smithtown civic group protested against the development. 

Protesters from the civic group We Are Smithtown, below, included James Bouklas and Phyllis Hart, president and vice president of the civic group. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We saw data from the town about what people wanted in a master plan,” James Bouklas, president of the group said. “And it isn’t this project. The residents overwhelmingly want less development, not more, lower density, not higher, they want walkable communities and amenities, like a community center.”

“The town is interested in development for the sake of development,” he added. “Their mantra is, build, baby, build.”

The project is planned to cost about $47 million and should be completed within the next two years. But according to Town of Smithtown planning director, Peter Hans, there has been approval for the site since 1988, initially with another developer. That project called for 192 units, and now, under The Northwind Group development, there will be 180 units built on 20 vacant acres.

“It won’t be heavily visible from Smithtown Boulevard,” he said. “A lot of the wood will be preserved.”

And at last Thursday’s groundbreaking, the elected officials all agreed this new development, despite what the naysayers might think, will have a positive impact.

“Everything we’re doing here is to help our economy,” town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said at the groundbreaking. “Because of the high taxes, people are leaving. We want to keep our community thriving.”

Vincent Puleo, the town clerk and president of the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, said residents of the project will bring $11 million in disposable income to the area. “Smithtown Boulevard will become downtown driven,” he said. “The positives outweigh the negatives 100%.”

“Smithtown Boulevard will become downtown driven. The positives outweigh the negatives 100%.”

—Vincent Puleo

Jim Tsunis, managing member of Northwind, said he and his team are looking forward to bringing the project to provide new housing for Smithtown seniors.

“They will move out of their houses, get an apartment here and spend their money downtown,” he said. 

“Turning that property into a senior-living development opens the door for Nesconset, which is a game changer,” town spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said. “Nesconset never had that centralized business district, but now Smithtown Boulevard will have that.”

But the peaceful protesters stood their ground.

“We are not against housing for seniors,” Bouklas said. “We are against density in our already dense neighborhoods, traffic on our congested roads and, most importantly, tax breaks for developers while the rest of us pay full price.”

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By Steven Zaitz

Richard “Bull” Smith, who founded Smithtown over 350 years ago, never played quarterback. Nor could he run the pick and roll in basketball, turn a 6-4-3 double play in baseball or swim the 100-meter breaststroke.

However, his statue was smack in the middle of about 100 student-athletes, coaches and parents Friday, Sept. 18, as they gathered to protest the Section XI decision to suspend all high school sports due to the coronavirus until at least January 2021. They met right on the front lawn of Section XI headquarters on Main Street and Route 111 in Smithtown.

Groups representing Kings Park, East Islip, Northport, Commack, Ward Melville and Connetquot joined Smithtown residents, who began their protest at the school district’s administration earlier on New York Avenue, and held up signs imploring the decision makers to rethink this delay. Many of these devoted and impassioned protesters were at the same location, doing the same thing Tuesday, Sept. 15.

One of these protesters was Ray Zuppa, an attorney from Smithtown, who feels that high school athletic facilities are far less dangerous than other places that kids might go. He is also a strong believer that not having the chance to play sports is devastating to the youngsters’ development.

“I believe Section XI has let the kids down,” Zuppa said later during a phone interview. “I realize it is a serious virus, but the science supports that it’s difficult to catch outside and when wearing a mask.”

Zuppa’s son, Isaiah Zuppa, is the starting quarterback of the Smithtown West Bulls and was one of the highest-rated passers in Suffolk County in 2019. He was also in attendance at the protest.

“Isaiah is a shell of himself,” the father said. “It’s not just about the games, but all these kids are missing the camaraderie, the discipline, team dinners and the bonding — and you know what, the parents are missing it too. Sports is essential to a lot of families.”

Zuppa coached his son for many years in the Suffolk County Police Athletic League, and when the father was asked if he took solace in the plans to have football season in March, he was skeptical. 

“I think this March thing is just a way to kick the can down the road,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s really going to happen, and this is just a way for them to bide their time.”

The masked protesters were rewarded by the encouragement of honking car horns, and they created a party-like atmosphere as they tossed footballs, sang team fight songs and ran through tumbling routines at the foot of Smith’s statue. However, Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, and the main target of the protesters’ ire, did not address the crowd or make an appearance from his nearby office.

“While this was a difficult decision, we feel it was the best move for the health and safety of everyone involved,” Combs said in a Sept. 11 statement on the Section XI website. “We still have a lot of hard work ahead in planning and executing on the three seasons across six months in 2021, but we look forward to the challenge and collaboration with our member schools and providing an impactful experience for our student-athletes and coaches.”

Despite Combs’ nonappearance, Zuppa still thinks these public showings are beneficial.

“They know we’re out here,” he said. “They know how we feel.”

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

North Shore students say they want to play.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than a hundred young athletes and their parents rallied in front of 180 E. Main St. in Smithtown Sept. 15. The building houses the offices of Section XI, which manages Suffolk County high school sports.

Last week the athletic council voted to postpone the fall sports season and condense all three seasons to run from January through June next year. The Nassau County Council of School Superintendents had already decided to postpone sports, both councils citing the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19 as well as the costs associated with meeting coronavirus restrictions at games. The decision is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) August announcement stating schools could allow certain sports to practice and compete starting in September, such as cross country, track and soccer, which have been deemed low to medium risk. Sports that were originally excluded from a fall start included football and volleyball.

The Sept. 15 rally was organized by field hockey players Carolena Purpura, a 12th-grader at Harborfields High School, and Jenna Halpin, a high school senior from Locust Valley High School. Halpin started the Let Them Play social media campaign. The two spoke at the event along with state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).

Halpin said students were excited after Cuomo’s August announcement.

“We texted our teammates, we dusted off our gear and got ready to play, something we were waiting five months to do,” Halpin said.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Purpura said she wonders why surrounding states have figured out how school sports can continue during the pandemic but not Long Island. She added how playing sports is good for mental health, serving as an outlet for pent-up energy or emotions. She said many times during a bad day at school she has imagined being on the field, and it’s a way for many to express themselves like others may do with music and art.

“There’s more to sports than competition, championships and making friends,” she said. “It goes way deeper than that and serves a greater purpose.”

Fitzpatrick said Cuomo and other state officials have stated it’s important to follow the science.

“The science has shown that we can do sports and other activities safely,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that practices such as social distancing, wearing masks and other safety protocols can be incorporated so students can play sports like they are doing in other states.

Fitzpatrick, a former student basketball player, encouraged the attendees to contact their elected officials on the state, county and town levels to put pressure on Section XI to let them play.

Athletes from several school districts including Miller Place, Comsewogue, Three Village, Smithtown, Hauppauge, Central Islip and more were on hand.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Hauppauge’s Jamie Devine, a 12th-grader who plays soccer and basketball, said if other states are able to practice sports and local students can attend classes in person, she doesn’t understand why Long Islanders can’t participate in sports, especially soccer which is played outside. The high school senior said she played in basketball tournaments in Pennsylvania this summer where everyone wore masks to the games, and everyone was fine.

“Not being able to play is really upsetting to me, because I’ve worked hard since I was little and to never get to play again upsets me,” she said.

Ward Melville cross country team members Katelyn Giordano, Alexis Bell and Julia Bell said they were training all summer. Finding out they couldn’t compete this fall, they said, was disappointing, especially when last season was cut short and they weren’t able to go to winter nationals or compete in the spring.

Miller Place High School senior Jonathan Flannery, who plays football, wrestling and lacrosse, said he feels robbed.

“Everyone has been dreaming of their senior year of football since we were [little], and it just feels so abrupt, and it’s just not right,” he said. “I’ll come back in the middle of the summer just to play a season. I don’t care. I didn’t play my last game yet.”

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Suffolk County Police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a motorcyclist in Smithtown Aug. 12.

A 17-year-old was driving a 2000 Nissan Pathfinder westbound on Carriage House Road when he made a left turn onto Route 25A and struck a northbound 2007 Honda motorcycle operated by James Shellock at approximately 11:20 p.m.

Shellock, 22, of Smithtown, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the Nissan, of Nesconset, was not injured. Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 4th Squad 631-854-8452.

Lawyers reveal new details on Case

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered in Smithtown for the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

For the families of the four women who tragically died in a 2015 limousine crash on County Route 48 in Cutchogue, the grief and pain from that fateful day has never gone away.

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered at the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

The families of Amy Grabina, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli, and Brittney Schulman gathered by a Smithtown street July 16 that was named in honor of their daughters next to Smithtown High School West. The group tied purple ribbons around the street sign and were also joined by the parents of four women who were injured and survived the crash.

“Due to the irresponsibility of some and negligence of others, those four women did not return, while four passengers returned physically and mentally scarred,” said Steven Baruch, father of victim Lauren Baruch. “It is five years after the fact and we are still tortured by many unanswered questions … that the picture of what actually happened remains unclear.”

At a press conference after the ceremony, Robert Sullivan, a lawyer for the Baruch family, revealed new information on the case. The lawyer showed an email from a Southold resident that was sent to town officials three years before the fatal crash. The resident in the email warned about the potential for an accident to occur on the intersection that killed the four women.

In addition, the attorney showed a newly surfaced ambulance report shows that there was a front-seat passenger in Steven Romeo’s pickup truck when it crashed into the limousine. The report says she refused medical care at the scene.

“It states on the report that she was the front seat passenger in the red pickup truck, so she saw the whole thing, ” Sullivan said. “That information was never given to us for three years. It was never turned over to the families or lawyers. Why is that? It is all part of a cover-up.”

Lawyers for the families have tried to interview the women, but have been unsuccessful as she has been uncooperative, according to the attorney.

“We have tried to depose this lady to find out what she saw, its [been] five years,” Russell said.
The Baruch and Grabina families are suing the Town of Southold and Suffolk County, claiming that they were negligent in failing to make the intersection safe before the accident.

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered at the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

The limo carrying the eight women, who were out celebrating an upcoming wedding, attempted to make a U-turn on Sound Avenue when it was struck by Romeo’s vehicle. The limo driver, Carlos Pino, was indicted on criminally negligent homicide charges, though the charges were thrown out by the State Supreme Court in 2016. Romeo pleaded guilty in 2017 to driving while impaired and was sentenced to a 90-day license suspension and fined $500.

Family members said they were denied justice.

Following the 2015 East End crash and a 2018 accident in upstate Schoharie County, New York passed legislation aimed at the limousine industry. The bill, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in January, requires passenger seat belts, drug and alcohol testing for drivers and increased penalties for illegal U-turns and includes a website where complaints can be made.

The families also called for the Safe Limo Act to be brought to President Donald Trump’s (R) desk and signed into federal law. The bill would set new federal limousine safety rules and standards for seat belts, seat integrity and fund crash safety research, among other things.

They said they are hoping something good can come from something tragic.

“The Safe Limo Act will ensure that the industry will follow the same protocols throughout the entire country,” said Nancy DiMonte, a mother of one of the crash survivors. “We have worked tirelessly to help New York become the forefront of advanced limousine safety measures and we are now prepared to institute these bills nationwide.”

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Police are looking for the person (s) who spray painted cars in the Town of Smithtown. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
Police are looking for the person (s) who spray painted a fence in the Town of Smithtown. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 4th Precinct Crime Section officers are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying and locating person(s) who spray painted resident’s property in Smithtown and Nesconset.

A person or persons spray painted vehicles, fences, mailboxes and other assorted property with blue and green spray paint in the vicinity of Howell Drive in Smithtown and in the vicinity of Southern Boulevard in Nesconset sometime between June 8 and June 9.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS.

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Suffolk County Police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Smithtown early in the morning July 9.

James Turek was driving a 2007 Nissan Altima eastbound on Route 347, just east of Terry Road, when the vehicle collided with the rear of an eastbound box truck at about 1:15 a.m.

Turek, 33, of Mount Sinai, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the box truck, an adult male, was transported to the same hospital for evaluation.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the crash to contact the 4th Squad at 631-854-8452.

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Supporters gathered to show solidarity for law enforcement at a Village of the Branch parking lot July 3. This comes weeks after protesters filled Smithtown’s Main Street in support of Black Lives Matter calling for an end to police violence and racism.

Many waved and held signs supporting reading “back the blue” and “respect our law enforcement.” American, Thin Blue and Trump 2020 flags also filled the Branch Plaza parking lot. Participants said they have seen a significant increase in anti-police sentiment and violence toward police officers.

The rally drew a sizable crowd, though a majority of participants did not adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as many did not wear masks or keep 6 feet apart despite organizers’ requests to do so.

Robert Cornicelli, event organizer for the dubbed “Freedom Rally,” said that the demonstration wasn’t a protest to counter Black Lives Matter or other groups.

“This is a rally to show that we are Americans,” he said. “We love our freedoms. We’ll defend it and fight for it ‘til the end,” he said.

Smithtown resident Cris Melendez, a former New York City police officer, said there should be more support for law enforcement.

“I have never seen anything like this, that the government is not supporting our police officers,” he said. “It’s a disgrace, it’s heartbreaking — I can’t even watch the news anymore. It’s terrible.”

Noel DiGerolamo, Suffolk PBA president, blamed “weak” elected officials for the shift in attitude toward law enforcement.

“There is no institutional problem in law enforcement,” he said to the crowd. “The institutional problem is with our elected officials who are too busy trying to keep their jobs instead of doing the job. Start showing some respect for people who are willing to lay down their lives for you every day.”

Jim Jernigan, a retired Suffolk County detective from Central Islip, was also concerned by the recent anti-police sentiment. He joined the department in 1979 and said since 9/11 he has seen the public attitude continue to worsen.

“People loved us, what happened in those 19 years?” he said. “It’s politicians.”

Smithtown Councilman Thomas Lohmann (R) and Mario Mattera, a St. James union leader who is running for State Senate on the Republican ticket, also spoke at the event.

In addition, first responders, veterans and health care professionals were honored at the rally. Bela Snow of Smithtown sang during the rally performing the National Anthem, “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless the USA.”

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Protesters returned to Smithtown June 9 to call for an end to racial injustice and police brutality on the day George Floyd was being laid to rest in Houston. The latest demonstration drew a large crowd — at its peak there were more than 1,000 individuals.

The June 9 gathering was the second one to take place in the town in one week.

The protest began at the Smithtown train station on Redwood Lane at 6 p.m., then made its way down Main Street. Groups convened at the intersection of Route 25A and 111 near the Millennium Diner, where everyone began the over 4-mile trek toward Route 347 as they walked down Hauppauge Road.

Additional protesters continued to join the walk as the crowd passed residential areas and neighborhoods. Some residents stood out in front of their homes to cheer on the protesters as they passed.

When protesters made it to the intersection of Route 347 and 111, traffic was shut down in both directions. It was there protesters participated in an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence, the length of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground under a police officer’s knee. Speeches were given, encouraging people present to continue to be a part of the ongoing movement and to call out injustices.

From there, protesters splintered off into separate groups, some headed toward the 4th Precinct on Veterans Highway, while others walked north on Brooksite Drive from Route 347 and some reconvened back at Main Street.

At 9:30 p.m., Smithtown Public Safety reported that hundreds were on Veterans Highway heading east and several hundred were all still on Main Street.

Nursing homes have become a hotbed of discussion over the large percentage of their residents who have died from COVID-19 while in New York facilities. Stock photo

As hospitalizations continue to decline, Suffolk County is poised to enter Phase Two of a four phase economic reopening on Wednesday, which would include outdoor dining.

The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 fell by 21 to 158 in the day ending on June 6. The number of residents in Intensive Care Unit beds stayed the same, at 50.

Hospital bed occupancy, meanwhile, was at 63 percent overall and at 56 percent in the ICU.

The number of people who have left the hospital in the last day was 26.

An additional four people died over the last day, raising that grim total to 1,935. The number of people who tested positive for the virus increased by 48, bringing the total to 40,377. the number of people who have tested positive for the antibody stood at 15,757.

Amid generally peaceful protesting, Bellone said there was a report of an incident in Smithtown that is currently under investigation.

The allegation in the Smithtown incident, which occurred last night, was “serious” and involved additional resources, including a hate crimes unit, a fourth precinct detective squad, and a plainclothes unit, as the Suffolk County Police Department is giving it “the highest priority,” said Chief Stuart Cameron.

Separately, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he appreciated Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) recent decision to allow outdoor high school graduations. The policy, however, only allows 150 people, which will be “difficult on Long Island,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. He has requested additional flexibility from the state to address the larger communities throughout Suffolk County.