Articles by

Vera Chinese

Vera Chinese joined The North Shore Sun as a staff writer in January 2010. She was named Associate Web Editor nine months later. She previously worked for the Southampton Press Western Edition and was named the third place 2008 Rookie Reporter of the Year by the New York Press Association. She graduated from Wagner College in 2006 where she received a bachelor's degree in English. She earned a master's degree in English education from New York University in 2007. She is a 2002 graduate of Eastport High School and has lived on the East End for more than 20 years.

01/23/12 1:30pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Inventor Willie Rangel demonstrates his cigar match, which lights when one end is tapped on a hard surface.

Sometimes the key to an invention is not necessarily creating something entirely new, but taking an existing product and making it better.

Willie Rangel of Calverton hoped to accomplish that with his cigar match — which ignites when one end is tapped on a hard surface, eliminating the need to continually strike the end against the box. Mr. Rangel has a patent pending for the product, which he hopes can be used by the U.S. military as a self-contained lighting device for explosives.

A former mortgage broker who now works part-time, Mr. Rangel has dabbled in inventing before.

To read more about Mr. Rangel and his cigar match, pick up a copy of this week’s Riverhead News-Review Thursday.

01/18/12 6:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Kyle Kratoville at WRIV 1390 Am last week during his show, "Kyle on the Dial."

The Riverhead teen who attempted last month with two friends to raise funds to purchase a North Carolina radio station was unable to reach his goal in time.

WRIV 1390 AM disc jockey Kyle Kratoville said he still hopes to purchase the 98.3 FM station, but is no longer actively fundraising, he said.

“We weren’t able to come up with the money and until that happens, we won’t be able to get the radio station,” he said, adding that he was unable to secure a personal loan to buy the station. “I‘ve spent the past eight months giving this project everything I have.”

Last month, the owner of 98.3 FM agreed to sell the station’s license for a $10,000 down payment plus a percentage of the monthly ad revenue, Mr. Kratoville said. If the purchase had gone through, he’d planned to rename the station NOW 98.3 and adopt a contemporary hit radio format.

He and his friends set up an account at kickstarter.com, which is a funding platform for creative products. To receive funding they had to meet their project goal of $10,000, but the trio fell $9,300 short of that goal.

vchinese@timesreview.com

01/17/12 5:01pm

FLORIDA STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS PHOTO | Convicted Greenport killer Robert Waterhouse decided not to listen to testimony today in the court battle over his execution.

A man convicted of killing two people, including the rape and murder of a 77-year-old Greenport woman nearly 46 years ago, decided not to listen to testimony today in the court battle over his scheduled execution, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.

While on lifetime parole after pleading guilty and serving just eight years in prison for Greenport resident Ella May Carter’s death, Robert Waterhouse was convicted of killing 29-year-old Deborah Kammerer in St. Petersburg, Fla. in January 1980. He has spent the past three decades on death row, but earlier this month Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered his execution for Feb. 15.

His attorney, Robert Norgard, raised at today’s hearing two issues he says should prevent his client from getting the death penalty, one being that a witness has come forward with new testimony. The other is a claim that DNA evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Waterhouse has since been destroyed.

Mr. Waterhouse, 65, was not in the Florida courtroom today as a witness contradicted the official account of the night of Ms. Kammerer’s murder, according to the Times report.

According to the Times story, a doorman at the lounge where witnesses in Mr. Waterhouse’s trial claimed the victim was seen leaving with him on the night of the murder, came forward saying he saw Mr. Waterhouse instead leave with two men. The doorman, 55-year-old Leglio Sotolongo, gave that account today in court.

Mr. Sotolongo reportedly said that after he saw a recent news report recounting the case, he felt it was important to come forward with his account of events. He said a friend ultimately convinced him to come forward.

The friend said, “‘It’s a serious issue.’ I agreed,” he told the Times.

A former Detective in the case, Gary Wilcox, also took the stand, denying that Mr. Sotolongo ever told him that he saw Mr. Waterhouse leave the bar with two men.

Mr. Sotolongo also testified that months after he was interviewed by the detective, Mr. Wilcox approached him and a friend in another bar and criticized them both for trying to help Mr. Waterhouse with their comments.

Mr. Wilcox denied that account.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said there would have been enough evidence to charge Waterhouse with the murder even without testimony about who left the bar with whom, according to the Times report.

vchinese@timesreview.com

01/17/12 12:59pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | This Week in History features two stories about development on Route 58, pictured above.

The following stories were excerpted from News-Review issues published 5, 10, 25, and 50 years ago this week:

5 years ago …

Route 58 gets county’s eye

Riverhead’s Route 58 corridor was named one of five major growth and development areas in Suffolk County, we reported in the Jan. 18, 2007 edition of the News-Review.

The report, released by the Suffolk County planning department, projected a 143 percent jump in the amount of retail space in Riverhead in coming years, noting that the Route 58 corridor is now one of the largest concentrations of shopping center development in Suffolk County, along with areas in four other communities. The report also predicted a 62 percent increase in residential development and a 224 percent jump in industrial development in Riverhead.

The report warned that if all proposed development projects in Riverhead and the other four communities mentioned proceeded as planned, it would mean significant changes for those five communities and Suffolk County as a whole.

Then-County Executive Steve Levy called a meeting of town supervisors to discuss a regional county/town strategy for dealing with the issues and impacts of major development.

Update: Development on Route 58 continues with a recently opened Lowe’s, a proposed Costco, recently-approved plans for a Marriott hotel and the latest proposal, a 118,650 square foot shopping center on the corridor’s western end. Industrial development, however, has remained mostly stagnant.

10 years ago …

Round about on traffic

“Lose the traffic circle and make Route 58 four lanes. That’s a recommendation that previously has been made by the county and now has been made in Riverhead Town’s draft master plan recommendations,” so read the lead of a story that ran in the Jan. 17, 2002 edition of the News-Review

The article stated that the county was not open to widening Route 58 unless the plan called to eliminate the Roanoke Avenue traffic circle. Town officials said the public had been split on removing the traffic circle.

One resident even suggested making Route 58 one-way heading east and Route 25 one-way headed west, though engineers said such a plan could hurt businesses on both roads.

John Shapiro of APPS, the firm that oversaw the town’s master plan update, told the audience at a public hearing not to worry about government funding.

“When government money comes, it comes fast,” he said.

Update: It wasn’t until eight years later when a widened, four-lane Route 58 was completed in June 2010. The $8 million project, paid for through county funds, has made driving through the busy thoroughfare much easier for commuters, residents and shoppers. The traffic circle remains, but is now a two-lane roundabout.

25 years ago …

Kidnap victim is found safe in trunk

Riverhead’s Melvin Anderson was found safe after he was abducted and tossed into the trunk of his own car and driven around for two hours before being rescued by Suffolk County Police, according to the front page story of the Jan. 22, 1987 edition of the News-Review.

“I figured I was finished if the police hadn’t stopped them,” Mr. Anderson told the News-Review shortly after the terrifying ordeal.

Mr. Anderson, then 51, said two men forced themselves into his car while it was stopped on Railroad Avenue in Riverhead. The men, who picked up a third accomplice along the way, demanded money from Mr. Anderson, who gave them $21. They then forced him into the trunk and continued driving.

The car was eventually stopped in an Amityville parking lot by two county police officers on a stakeout. One of the suspects got into a fight with an officer while being handcuffed and took control of his police cruiser before smashing it into a wall.

Mr. Anderson, who was banging on the trunk during the stop, was found safe.

The other suspects escaped.

50 years ago …

Note: This following is a recap of a story that originally ran in the Jan. 18, 1962 edition of the News-Review. The recap was printed in the Jan. 22, 1987 edition, and appears in its entirety below.

Two children rescued by 12-year-old

Two small children, who had fallen through the ice of a Riverhead pond Thursday afternoon, were saved from possible drowning in 12 feet of water, through a dramatic rescue by a 12-year-old boy, a victim of cerebral palsy.

David Dougherty, son of Mr. and Mrs. David Dougherty of 125 Northern Blvd., Riverhead, had just finished ice skating on Merrits Pond, taken off his skates and donned hipboots, when he saw two children walking on the ice at the northern end of the pond.

He warned the children that it wasn’t safe to go back. Suddenly, five-year-old Bridgette Harrison fell through the ice, and in an attempt to save his sister, Joseph Patrick also fell in.

Young Doughery first tried to wade to the children, and finding the water too deep, took off his jacket and boots and swam 30 feet to them.

He grabbed the girl around the neck, and the boy got on David’s back. He told them to start kicking their feet, and swam them safely to shore. Neither of the children panicked, but little Bridgette was crying.

David led them to his house, and Mrs. Dougherty took the children to the home of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Harrison of Duryea Street. Bridgette’s pigtails were frozen solid.

vchinese@timesreview.com

01/17/12 10:55am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO| The roller hockey rink at Stotzky Park.

Materials for an outdoor skating rink will be installed in Stotzky Park in Riverhead tomorrow afternoon, but the warmer than average temperatures mean it could be at least a week until the rink is functional.

Water is poured over the new rink, which is essentially PVC piping and a liner placed over the existing roller rink, and it freezes naturally.

“We’ll put the water in and we’ll wait,” said town recreation department superintendent Ray Coyne.

The $5,000 allotted for the project is funded through fees paid by developers and set aside for capital recreation projects, at no additional cost to taxpayers. The project total came in under budget at $4,495, according to Mr. Coyne.

The winter rink, which will only freeze naturally, will be used mainly for pickup games of hockey, town officials have said.

Official hours have not been set and Mr. Coyne said as of now, there will be no fee to use the facility. He said, however, the town is looking to purchase ice skates from Modell’s and will rent the skates to the public.

“We’ll see what the demand is, which I think will be large,” he said.

Meanwhile, Riverhead is awaiting architectural plans for a year-round synthethic rink downtown. The project, which has secured a $99,000 county grant, will be built sometime in 2012, said downtown Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill.

The rink is proposed to be built in the downtown parking lot, which runs along the Peconic River, behind the Riverhead Grill.

vchinese@timesreview.com

01/13/12 5:18pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead High School

The Riverhead School District has reached a settlement with one of its unions to recoup thousands of dollars overpaid to about 125 employees in the 2010-11 school year.

But the district will eat more than half the nearly $20,000 that was overpaid, according to school officials and News-Review calculations.

In an agreement approved at Tuesday’s school board meeting, obtained by the News-Review through a Freedom of Information Law request, the Civil Service Employees Association agreed for certain employees — those at the top step of its pay scale — to only take a .25 percent “off step” wage increase next school year to make up for the difference in overpaid wages.

The union represents most non-instructional employees in the district, which includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, mechanics and other maintenance staff, among other positions.

“This was an unfortunate oversight on the part of the district in the 2010-2011 school year,” Superintendent Nancy Carney said in an email.

According to officials, CSEA employees at the top of their pay scale were granted a one-time off-step pay increase of .5 percent on their regular salaries during the 2009-10 school year. When it came time for another such .5 percent increase in 2010-2011, the new raise took into account the  previous .5 percent salary increase, but it should not have.

In short, the district compounded the 2010-11 increase.

The .5 percent off-step pay raises were in addition to the 1.5 percent granted to all civil service union employees, most of which also received what’s called step increases. But since the top step employees did not receive an additional step increase, the .5 percent off-step increases were issued to compensate, according to the 2010 agreement, also received through a FOIL request.

“When something is ‘off-step’ it is akin to a one-time payment that does not count towards future increased earnings,” Ms. Carney explained. “The error in calculation occurred when the .5 percent increase was incorporated into the 1.5 percent increase year over year instead of held separately each year.”

One caveat of the settlement is that about 10 employees have already retired or will be leaving the district prior to 2012-13, and thus will not be required to pay back any money.

“When a mistake happens in payroll in which employees are overpaid, the law does not permit the district to simply dock future earnings to make up for past mistakes,” Ms. Carney said.  “The law requires the district to either sue each overpaid employee individually or negotiate a settlement of the issue with the union at large.”

About 125 employees were overpaid somewhere between $130 and $175 in 2010-11, Ms Carney said.

Considering a median of $152.50 for 125 overpaid employees, the mistake would have cost the district more than $19,000. Using that calculation, the district would eat $1,525 for employees who left the district and half of the $17,500 paid to 115 remaining employees.

The memo is signed by Ms. Carney, school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse, local CSEA president Arlene Chastaine and labor relations specialist Sergio Diaz.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse deferred all comment to Ms. Carney. Ms. Chastaine could not immediately be reached for comment.

vchinese@timesreview.com

01/13/12 7:00am

East End Arts will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year. It kicks off the celebration with a brunch Sunday.

It may be winter, but there is still plenty to do in Riverhead this weekend. And the Riverhead News-Review weekend guide has got you covered. Check out our listing of this weekend’s happenings. Or, you could visit our weekly calendar under the community tab on our homepage.

• Celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dragon at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport Saturday. There will be an introduction to Chinese culture and Chinese history with a brief overview of key dynasties, classic stories, literature, classical Chinese dance (Shen Yun) and Chinese musical instruments. The event, which kicks off at 2 p.m., is free. Call 477-0660 for more info.

• For nature lovers, a hike led by Barbara Terranova will be held at Dam Pond Maritime Preserve in East Marion from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. Sunday. Hikers should meet in the preserve parking lot. The distance is 1 1/2 to 3 miles so pack a snack and drink, bring a camera and binoculars. Dress for the weather, and footwear with traction is recommended. This event, for ages 9 and up, is hosted by Town of Southold Recreation Department. The fee is $5 and registration is required. Call 765-5182 for more info.

• East End Arts will kick off its 40th anniversary with a Birthday Party Brunch at the East Main Street gallery at 1 p.m. Sunday. The celebration continues through 2012. There will be champagne, birthday cake, party favors, entertainment. Tickets are $50. Call 727-0900 to reserve. All proceeds support EEA programs and services. Visit eastendarts.org/events/40thBirthday.html. If you miss it, don’t worry. The News-Review will be there taking photos to capture the fun.

• The Riverhead Free Library will host its Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program, 3 p.m. The guest speaker will be Frances L. Brisbane, professor and dean at Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare. Living Temple Ministry Choir will perform. The event is free and refreshments will be served. The program is presented by East End Voters Coalition of Riverhead. Call 727-3228, 284-3069 or 369-4642 for more info. (And don’t forget, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be observed Jan. 16.)

01/12/12 1:01pm

COURTESY PHOTO | Rob and Karen Serva with their daughter Caroline on her first birthday. The family celebrated at Blythedale Children's Hospital, where Caroline is being cared for.

It takes Karen and Rob Serva four hours from the time they wake up until the moment they can see their 1-year-old daughter Caroline.

Even though they have the routine down pat.

First, Karen has to make breakfast for Caroline’s siblings, 5-year-old Emily, and Bridget and Abigail, the other two of the couple’s year-old triplets. Next, they must get Emily on the school bus and wait for a family member to arrive to watch Bridget and Abigail.

Then comes the two-hour, twice weekly trip from their home in Sound Beach to Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County, where Caroline, who suffered severe brain damage shortly after her premature birth in 2010, is being cared for.

And for all their trouble, they’re lucky if they get to spend three hours with Caroline — who doctors say will never be able to walk, talk, sit unassisted or eat solid food — even if they put lunch off until after the visit.

“We want to maximize the time,” said Mr. Serva, a clerk at the state Supreme Court building in Riverhead.

Ms. Serva makes the trip twice as often as her husband, but that could change this spring, when she returns to her job, also at the courthouse.

The Servas are part of a growing number of Long Islanders whose children need round-the-clock medical care and can only get it at facilities off the island. There are an estimated 600 medically fragile children on Long Island, though many are cared for at home.

EDITORIAL: SOMETHING MUST BE DONE

In Riverhead alone, two teens, Michael Hubbard and Rashad Jackson, had to be moved this year to the nearest such hospital — Blythedale in Valhalla, N.Y. — after near-fatal accidents. Michael was severely burned in a gel candle accident and Rashad was hit by a car. Michael’s mother Nancy Reyer stays at the facility full-time rather than making daily trips from the East End.

The lack of a nearby long-term care facility for children like these can wreak havoc on families, sometimes even ending marriages and leading to breakdowns for caregivers, according to advocates.

The Coalition for Medically Fragile Children — a network of New York parents, children’s advocates, children’s hospitals and home health providers — advocates for increased access to home care for those children, something it argues will save the state money in the long run.

In a study, the coalition says nursing training, increasing the reimbursement rates for home-care nurses and providing case management services as a Medicaid benefit will make home care more obtainable for families and will either be cost neutral or will result in savings for the state.

“When medically permissible and desired by the family, allowing medically fragile children to be cared for at home is best for their health and development,” the coalition states in the study conducted by the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.

Still, home care may be an option for some families, but it can be especially burdensome for older parents or those with other young children.

Yet there has never been a large movement to build a full-size facility on Long Island to serve such children, described as medically fragile or, sometimes, technology-dependent, according to aides to state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches). Such a facility could also offer a respite, such as during family vacation, for those who opt for home care.

Right now, there is only one alternative on the East End for families with a child in need of long-term care, but it’s got a long waiting list.

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Bob Policastro inside one of the bedrooms at Angela's House in East Moriches. The mural behind him was painted by artists with the non-profit "Splashes of Hope."

On Montauk Highway in East Moriches, near the end of County Road 51, is a seven-bed facility. Inside Angela’s House, a yellow two-story home for technology-dependent children, the den and living area give no indication that it’s actually a nursing facility.

A few children in wheelchairs are gathered around the television, which has an attached Xbox 360 and other gaming consoles for when their siblings come to visit. Pictures and toys from home are the first thing one sees upon entering the bedrooms — each decorated with a colorful wall-sized mural ­— not oxygen machines and other medical equipment.

“The kids in here, we can give them the best possible life,” said Bob Policastro, executive director of the not-for-profit organization.

Mr. Policastro, who lost his medically fragilel 1-year-old daughter Angela in 1990, and his wife, also named Angela, have been fighting for these children for the past two decades. The facility was built in 2000 and is financed through state and federal funds and donations. There is another Angela’s House in Smithtown, and Mr. Policastro hopes to build a third soon in Stony Brook. That location will be the first to care for ventilator-dependent children like Caroline Serva.

The organization, which is affiliated with the Manorville-based Independent Group Home Living, also helps families coordinate home care and educates them about available assistance.

Mr. Policastro noted that although Stony Brook University Medical Center opened a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in 2010, the only such facility on Long Island, it does not offer long-term care for medically fragile children.

“The problem is, once kids are stable, there is no place to go,” he said.

And, he admits, Angela’s House is not large enough for the Long Island population. “There’s a waiting list the size of Texas to get in,” said Rob Serva, Caroline’s father.

Mr. Policastro and his wife and staff do what they can, but he said they know a large, 50-bed, nursing home on Long Island that can care for young and old — one that’s more home than nursing home — is what’s needed. So far, though, he’s been unable to convince a nursing home to build such a facility on the island.

“It’s tragic to think that after 22 years we still see these gaping holes in children’s services on Long Island,” he said.

Another problem is that there’s no 100 percent accurate umbrella medical term for the problems these children face, which makes it difficult to raise awareness and funds. Some of the children Angela’s House works with have severe cerebral palsy; others have disorders that are so rare they are the only ones in the state afflicted.

Meanwhile, parents such as the Servas will continue to make long drives to Westchester, Connecticut or New Jersey.

But that does free up time for them to write letters. And they’re urging others to do so as well, hoping that a movement to get such a facility built might finally take hold here.

In an open letter he’s circulated to elected officials, Mr. Serva shares his story, and the promise he made to his daughter to one day bring her closer to home.

“Long Island needs a loving and safe environment where children with complex medical needs can be cared for with the utmost quality of care,” the letter states. “Caroline needs to be back on Long Island surrounded by her family and, just as importantly, her family needs her.

“To kiss her and hug her each day, that is all we hope for.”

vchinese@timesreview.com