Articles by

Paul Squire and Carrie Miller

04/22/14 3:46pm
An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

State tax officials shut down an East Main Street burrito joint Tuesday afternoon for failing to pay thousands of dollars in state sales taxes — but the restaurant’s owner told the News-Review he’s going to pay back the state Department of Taxation and Finance and that the eatery won’t be closed for long.

“I’m working with them now, and it’s going to be reopened definitely next week,” owner Ken Loo said.

The doors of Blue Agave Mexican Grill, which opened in 2012 and had, of late, only accepted cash payments, were locked Tuesday afternoon. Customers were greeted by multiple bright orange signs informing them that the property had been “seized for nonpayment of taxes and is now in the possession of New York State.”

According to the state tax warrant system, five tax liens have been filed against the restaurant since 2012, four of which are current — totaling $13,804. A New York State Tax Assessment spokesperson said that, in order for the restaurant to reopen, Mr. Loo will need to pay a total of $8,187 for nonpayments from 2013.

Mr. Loo — who also runs the sushi restaurant Haiku out of the same East Main Street building as Blue Agave as well as the Hy Ting Chinese restaurant on West Main Street — said he had to focus his attention on the Birchwood restaurant after his brother James, who owned and operated the Polish Town bar, died suddenly in January.

Mr. Loo said he discovered Birchwood was five weeks behind on payroll.

“I had to pay those guys,” he said. “A lot of things I can live with, like owing the state money. But I can’t owe people that have been working there for 30 years and not give them their paychecks.”

In addition to the money owed from Blue Agave, two liens totaling $13,659 were filed against Hy Ting and one for $14,149 was filed against Haiku, according to state records.

Mr. Loo said he had been in the process of paying for the taxes owed by Hy Ting and Haiku, and had a year to pay off the Blue Agave’s lien, but instead chose to use the money at Birchwood to “keep it afloat.”

When the deadline for Blue Agave’s payments came and went, the state stepped in.

Finding that tax agents had seized the restaurant and changed the locks was no surprise, Mr. Loo said.

“They change the locks and, when you give them the money, they give you the key,” he said.

He told the News-Review he would pay the state taxes in full to reopen the restaurant and was confident that, despite a “brutal” winter, the eatery would survive.

“I don’t want to see that place go,” he said. “It’s going to be open again … All three are still going to be there.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

02/27/14 1:10pm
Digger O'Dell's on West Main Street in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Digger O’Dell’s on West Main Street in Riverhead. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The annual fundraiser for Cornell University’s Long Island Horticulture Research & Extension is set for next Thursday, March 6, in Riverhead.

The buffet dinner will include pasta, chicken, beef and potato dishes, served by “celebrity bartenders” from the horticulture industry like greenhouse owners, landscapers, local farmers and growers.

“This is really a good fundraiser for us,” said Diane Hanwick, an administrator at the extension. “This is one of the big ones.”

Ms. Hanwick said Digger’s owner Steve Wirth offers up the space for free for the fundraiser and donates nearly all of the proceeds to Cornell — he only asks that the tips remain with his waiters.

“He’s been very generous,” she said.

Mark Bridgen, center director and professor of horticulture, said the fundraising event is in its tenth year, and has proven to be a fun night, bringing those interested in agriculture together.

Farming experts that work at the center include plant pathologists, an entomologist, grape specialists and others. They research local and regional growing methods designed to increase crop yields, improve crop quality, decrease production and marketing costs and increase production and marketing efficiency for local farmers.

They do all this while working to preserve the local environment, according to the Cornell website.

The event is priced at $20 per person, and all income collected from the meals will be donated to Cornell’s Riverhead center.

The campus, a now 68-acre facility, features state-of-the-art greenhouses, a nursery and container production area, and a plant tissue culture facility. It was established on a 30-acre farm in 1922.

Each summer the center hires student interns to help run the experimental growing operations. A portion of the proceeds will go toward funding the student interns, Mr. Bridgen said.

Digger O’Dell’s is located at 58 West Main St. in Riverhead.

cmiller@timesreview.com

02/25/14 3:00pm
GOOGLE MAPS PHOTO | Several break-ins were reported across Wading River this weekend, according to police reports.

GOOGLE MAPS PHOTO | Several break-ins were reported across Wading River this weekend, according to police reports.

A strip of businesses in Wading River were burglarized over the weekend, with thousands of dollars in copper pipe stolen from one entrepreneur’s store, according to one victim and Riverhead Town police. A separate string of burglaries were also discovered at six Hulse Landing Road cottages, police said.

(more…)

10/31/13 1:18am
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | This Hess station on Edwards Avenue was robbed at gunpoint Wednesday night, authorities said. The robber remains at large.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The Hess station on Edwards Avenue that was robbed at gunpoint Wednesday night, police said. The robber remains at large.

It had been a quiet night for Hess gas station clerk Mohammed Kahn.

Unlike during the busy summer months, there were no customers inside the station’s market on Edwards Avenue near the Long Island Expressway on-ramp Wednesday.

About 7:45 p.m., Mr. Kahn said a customer — a man in his 30s wearing a black hat and black clothing — walked in through the doors and up to the counter. The man told Mr. Kahn to give him money from the register.

The cashier, the only employee working at the time, thought it was a prank.

“I was looking to him like he was joking,” Mr. Kahn told the News-Review.

That’s when the man pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the clerk, demanding the cash.

Mr. Kahn quickly realized the man wasn’t kidding. Mr. Kahn said he gave the robber cash from the register and the man ran away from the station.

No one was injured in the robbery.

Riverhead Town police responded to Mr. Kahn’s call to 911 moments later, and searched the scene for the robber.

“They came right away,” Mr. Kahn said. “They’re very fast.”

Suffolk County police reached the gas station soon after Riverhead cops and took over the investigation. The Hess station sits about a quarter-mile into the Suffolk County police’s jurisdiction.

Town police described the suspect as a white male standing about 6-feet-tall and wearing dark clothing. He was last seen running north along Edwards Avenue and remains at large.

Suffolk County Police Department detectives are actively investigating the robbery, county police said.

Mr. Kahn said Suffolk County sheriffs often stop by the mart by while patrolling the area, but no police were nearby when the robbery occurred.

“[The robber] was lucky,” he said.

Still, he’s confident the robber will be caught; the suspect was caught on surveillance footage, Mr. Kahn said.

Mr. Kahn, better known to his customers as Assad, has been working at the Hess station for 12 years and said he had never been robbed before.

But in recent years, he said, the neighborhood around the station has been changed by more drugs on the street.

“I see girls and boys come by, they look like they came from good homes,” Mr. Kahn said. “There’s a lot of drugs.”

psquire@timesreview.com

10/01/13 10:38am
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO |

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Rick Mascia, 21, is led into Riverhead Town Justice Court for his arraignment on a burglary charge Tuesday morning.

Two men — including a man wanted for violating probation — are being held at Suffolk County jail Tuesday afternoon after they were arrested on burglary charges Monday in Mastic Beach hours after a break-in at a Wading River home earlier that day, according to a police statement.

Ryan Mercado, 21, of Shirley and Rick Mascia, 21, were arraigned in Riverhead Town Justice Court Tuesday morning on second-degree burglary charges in connection with the theft, police said.

A resident at the targeted home on 15th Street called police at 1:19 a.m. to report her house had been “forcibly entered,” police said. The woman told police $4,000 in cash had been taken from the home.

CREDIT MAPQUEST

CREDIT MAPQUEST

“It looks like they just kicked in the front door,” said police Lt. Robert Peeker.

Detectives gathered information and found Mr. Mercado and Mr. Mascia were staying at the Smith Point Motel, arresting the men just after noon.

Some of the stolen money was recovered, police said.

A bench warrant out of county court had been issued for Mr. Mascia for violating probation in connection with a driving while intoxicated arrest in 2012, his attorney said in court.

Mr. Mascia is being held on $10,000 bail, while Mr. Mercado is being held on $2,500 bail.

“Right now I’m broke. I just have a bad habit,” Mr. Mercado said when asked how he supported himself.

psquire@timesreview.com

 

02/08/13 12:05pm
Riverhead braces for storm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Highway department plows were at the ready Friday.

A “significant” winter storm is expected to dump between 12 and 20 inches of snow across Long Island, with the most snow expected on the North Fork and East End Friday into Saturday, according to forecasts by the National Weather Service, which issued a blizzard warning starting Friday.

Even higher amounts can accumulate on eastern Long Island due to isolated snow bands, weather officials said.

A mix of rain and occasional flurries had already begun to fall Friday morning, with about 2 to 4 inches of snow expected to accumulate during the daytime hours, according to NWS forecasts.

But things are going to start picking up into the evening and worsen as the night goes on, when the blizzard will hit with heavy bands of snow and sustained winds between 30 and 40 mph — with gusts topping 60 mph — that will make travel dangerous and may cause power outages, officials said.

“This is a classic nor’easter,” said meteorologist David Stark, with the weather service station in Upton. ”All the ingredients that come together for nor’easter are there.”

NORTH FORK SCHOOL CLOSINGS, POSTPONEMENTS

The storm could cause electrical outages for over 100,000 customers on Long Island, according to a statement by National Grid.

EVENTS CANCELED DUE TO STORM

“The winds are going to be howling Friday night,” Mr. Stark said. “I wouldn’t recommend being on the road.”

Riverhead Town officials are warning North Shore residents whose properties suffered beach erosion during Hurricane Sandy should pay close attention to the storm, as more erosion is expected.

Officials are also telling residents to remove their cars from streets so town highway workers can better plow the roads.

“Vehicles parked on a public highway during a snow emergency are subject to fines and towing,” reads a town press release.

Riverhead highway superintendent George (Gio) Woodson said on Thursday that highway crews had already begun spreading a salt-brine solution over some stretches of town roads to make plowing easier.

“Right now we’re putting it on some of our main roads and dangerous intersections,” he said, explaining that the brine creates a barrier between the snow and asphalt.

“With all the traffic on the road these days, the cars get out and pack the snow down and the plows sort of ride on top of it,” so the brine helps, he said.

Rivrhead highways crews were prepping vehicles and supplies about 10 a.m. Friday, but Mr. Woodson said he planned to send the workers home about 2 p.m. so they can rest up for a long night.

He expected they would return in the evening, before the heavy snow starts to fall.

In the meantime, residents had been taking to gas stations and supermarkets to fuel up and get supplies.

Things got tense for a minute Friday morning at the Valero station on Route 25A in Wading River, where a car had cut a gas line about four cars deep.

A man in a pickup drove up to the rouge car’s driver and told him to move to the back of the line, and the driver complied.

“Last night it was bad,” said Will Andrews, 18, of Wading River, who showed up at the Valero Friday morning instead.

“I am preparing just in case.” he said, recalling the gas lines after Hurricane Sandy.

“It is very busy,” said Ysin Ilgin, who manages the station. “There have been lots of lines. We are waiting for a delivery. We will see.”

“People worry too much,” he added. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“I’m not that worried, but I might as well fill up just in case,” said Todd Drexler of Miller Place.

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco issued a statement Friday cautioning residents to have a plan in place to stay warm and safe. If you lose heat in your home, he said, close off any unneeded rooms and plan to stay in one area.

“To retain heat as long as possible, place blankets or towels under doors and cover up all windows where heat could easily escape,” he said.

He also recommended leaving faucets slightly turned on if there is a danger of water pipes freezing.

The east-northeastern winds may also cause beach erosion on the North Fork because of Friday night’s high tide, weather officials said.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for coastal areas.

By Saturday afternoon, the storm will have moved out of the area and the high winds will die down over the weekend as temperatures rise above freezing, Mr. Stark said.

Residents are advised to avoid traveling during the storm due to the predicted hazardous conditions.

At Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead was also implementing a preparedness plan for the coming storm.

All evening and night staff will be reporting to the Route 58 hospital by 5 p.m. Friday, which means those staffing those shifts will be “in-house” before darkness, said Andrew Mitchell, hospital president and CEO.

“Senior staff will be onsite at the main campus emergency operations center throughout the duration of the storm,” Mr. Mitchell said.

psquire@timesreview.com

With Michael White, Barbaraellen Koch and Joe Werkmeister

Riverhead highway workers prepare for Nemo

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | John Niewadomski helps Dave Osman check tire pressure Friday.

01/23/13 4:52pm
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Erek Berntsen cuts wood at a construction site near the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Construction worker Erek Berntsen near the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport.

For most, even the easiest tasks become a hassle when temperatures start to drop.

But for many workers across the North Fork this week, being out in the cold is just part of the job.

“You can’t take a job outside and not expect to be out in the cold,” said Erek Berntsen, a construction worker at the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport.

High temperatures reached 20 degrees on the North Fork Wednesday, about 10 to 15 degrees below normal, said Dan Hoffman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton.

“The next 36 hours are going to be the coldest,” Mr. Hoffman said. Temperatures will slowly rise into the weekend, reaching the freezing point by Sunday, he said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Herman Salazar trims grape vines at a vineyard in Jamesport Wednesday afternoon.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Herman Salazar trims grape vines at a vineyard in Jamesport Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Berntsen had been out in the cold since 7 a.m., cutting pieces of wood to build the rafters of a new farm stand on the property.

A few miles east on Route 25, Bob Boergesson, a Mattituck-Cutchogue School District crossing guard, said wind is the biggest challenge he faces in the cold.

“Layers … [cover] up as much as you can,” he advised. “It’s the wind that gets you.”

On South Harbor Road in Southold, seven LIPA workers were found using a utility trucks to trim trees away from power wires.

“It is extremely cold,” conceded a LIPA foreman, who did not give his name. “Even colder up there.”

Despite the frigid temperatures, the foreman said worker morale is still high.

“We’re always good,” he said. “We complain, but we get the work done.”

At a local vineyard, laborer Emilio Jebier used a pruner to cut away dead vines from the trellis.

“Good vines means good selection [of grapes] for next year,” Mr. Jebier said while working at Jason’s Vineyard in Jamesport. Mr. Jebier has been tending to vines for 13 years, and said he’s used to working in the cold when he needs to.

Nearby, Herman Salazar of Mattituck was also clipping vines, a black ski mask covering his face from the bitter wind.

A group of half a dozen workers had been out at the vineyard  since 7 a.m. and will keep trimming until 4:30 p.m., Mr. Salazar said. The next day, they’ll do it all again. The group works six days a week in the field.

“The snow isn’t bad, the cold [is],” Mr. Salazar said, peeling the ski mask below his face. ”Today is very freezing.”

But some workers said this week’s cold weather wasn’t the worse they’ve experienced.

“This is nothing,” said a Suffolk County Water Authority worker on Route 25 in Cutchogue. “When you have a water main break, you’re out there for 24 hours straight in the cold.”

Their advice? Keep busy.

“Working a couple years in this, you get used to it,” said another worker.

psquire@timesreview.com

01/15/13 3:54pm

North Fork residents went to the polls Tuesday, with voting places reporting steady turnout in a special election between Riverhead Supervisor Sean Water and Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski for Ed Romaine’s vacant Suffolk County Legislature seat.

Poll workers at Pulaski Street School and John Wesley Village in Riverhead reported turnout was high — at least higher than other non-Election Day votes, like political primaries.

“This year is a pretty decent turnout so far,” said elections assistant coordinator John McIntyre, adding that the John Wesley Village polling place had seen 100 voters as of about noon.

Voters interviewed in Riverhead were mixed in their support for either Mr. Walter or Mr. Krupski.

Mike Meyer, a resident of Riverhead for the past 10 years, said he supported Mr. Walter because of his policies in Riverhead.

“I think he’s had some good ideas with what he’s done with … downtown,” Mr. Meyer said.

Peter and Adelaide Ferrero, both of Riverhead, said they voted for Mr. Krupski, saying that they knew his family and that he was an “upstanding citizen.”

Most of those polled at the Mattituck High School voting place said they were voting for Mr. Krupski because of his history of service and his stance on conservation and open space.

Pat DeRidder said she voted for Mr. Krupski because she wanted to see more of the North Fork preserved for future generations.

“I want to see [my grandchildren] … enjoy the beautiful community with all this land,” she said.

Still, a few said they would be voting for Mr. Walter because he shares their conservative values.

“I vote for conservatives only,” said Jack Peters, a 30-year Mattituck resident. “I just think we need a major switch.”

psquire@timesreview.com