03/31/12 4:15pm
03/31/2012 4:15 PM

Just 90 minutes in to “Long Island’s Best! A Pet Adoption Expo” at Polish Hall in Riverhead a dozen pets had already found new homes.

Event organizers told us they already saw eight dogs and four cats get adopted.

The event was organized by the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, and featured adoptable pets from nearby shelters such as Kent Animal Shelter, the Riverhead Town Shelter and the North Fork Animal Welfare League in Southold.

/ 16

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTOS

03/31/12 10:00am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine said a long-term care facility for children is needed here.

What was once little more than a dream for Long Island families who desperately need local care for their medically dependent children is now moving closer to reality.

A Suffolk County task force is in the works to look into bringing long-term pediatric care to the area to fill the gap in medical facilities for children in need.

According to a Jan. 12 Riverhead News-Review special report, few local long-term medical care options exist for children with severe medical issues. Since that time, some politicians and hospital administrators have said the issue will not be easy to resolve, while Suffolk County-based nonprofit groups have stepped up their efforts to find a solution.

During a meeting of the county Legislature’s health committee last week, Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) brought up the issue of pediatric care following coverage of the issue by several media outlets. Other legislators like Kate Browning (D-Shirley) have offered suggestions on how to address the lack of care for children in need.

And now, Mr. Romaine’s office said, lawmakers are planning to form a county task force to tackle the problem.

“We’re working with the county executive to establish a task force or a commission to look into the feasibility of bringing a facility to Suffolk County.” said Bill Faulk, legislative aide to Mr. Romaine. “Within the next month or so, there will be something official.”

Karen Serva, whose daughter Caroline suffered a severe brain injury following her premature birth in 2010, spoke at the meeting last Thursday and urged legislators to focus on a solution for Long Island children in need.

“This is a critical issue on Long Island, and it is wrong,” Ms. Serva said during the meeting. “Parents should not be separated from their children, especially sick children like my daughter.”

Ms. Serva and her husband, Rob, travel two hours twice a week from their Sound Beach home to Westchester County to see their daughter, who will turn 2 years old next week, at Blythedale Children’s Hospital.

Other children, like Riverhead teenagers Michael Hubbard and Rashad Jackson who were injured in near-fatal accidents last year, are also at Blythedale for rehabilitation — miles away from their homes.

The proposed task force will look into the necessary permits, licenses, building needs and “all the aspects” of creating a facility for long-term pediatric care within the county, Mr. Faulk said.

“We figure if we put a bunch of experts together in the same room they can figure out what it takes to get it done,” he said.

Mr. Faulk added that a public-private partnership like the East End Veterans Clinic at the County Center in Yaphank would be ideal, since it would not have any financial impact on Suffolk County as the county government wrestles with its looming debt.

Using the county’s Foley Nursing Home is one of the hypothetical scenarios that may work, he said.

“We don’t want to utilize county resources, but we can provide the space,” Mr. Faulk said, adding that the former Capital One office building on Main Road in Mattituck as also been floated as a possible location for a facility.

Ms. Serva said in an interview that she is optimistic about the progress being made to bring a pediatric care facility to Long Island.

“Just the fact that it seems to be snowballing … obviously for us, this is for the better,” she said. “It means everything to me. This offers my family in particular a lot of hope that Caroline will soon be back with our family, on the same island.”

psquire@timesreview.com

03/31/12 9:59am

There are two requisites for effecting change in the societies in which we live ­— getting a movement under way and then actually getting results.

And they are equally challenging to achieve.

In the issue of providing long-term pediatric care on Long Island, the first requisite is on the verge of being met. With news this week that a Suffolk County task force is in the works to look into bringing a full-service, long-term pediatric care facility to Long Island, it’s clear that lawmakers recognize this great need for so many local families.

Champions of the movement — at the forefront are Karen and Rob Serva, whose daughter Caroline suffered brain damage after birth and now lives at a long-term care facility upstate — have been doing everything right in bringing attention to this issue.

They’ve been interviewing with local and regional media, speaking at public meetings, writing letters to politicians and op-ed editors and working the social media. The Servas have also started a website called bringcarolinehome.com to educate others about this void in local medical services, using their own heart-wrenching daily struggle as evidence. They also urge others to write to their elected leaders for help.

Perhaps most important of all, the Servas (and others) have refused to accept the expected dismissive explanations as to why this might be too big a challenge locally, or why other needs might command more attention.

“I invite these officials to come into my home and sit face-to-face with me and tell me about the other, more pressing medical needs in our area,” Ms. Serva wrote in a February News-Review column, in response to our coverage of the issue. “The more delicate the child and more serious the medical condition, the harder families like mine are pressed to find a facility out of state.

“We have said, ‘Not this time.’ ”

That’s the only attitude that will keep this movement going, with the goal of actually getting such a facility built here. Achieving that result seems more likely now that the Legislature appears to be taking the issue seriously.

Legislators Ed Romaine and Kate Browning have offered suggestions on how to address this need, namely a possible private-public partnership at the county’s half-empty Foley Nursing Home in Yaphank or even the former Capital One building in Mattituck.

More ideas would be generated through the task force, which has not yet been officially formed. An aide to Mr. Romaine said an announcement on the task force’s formation may come within two weeks. We urge officials to move forward without delay.

03/30/12 8:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead High School.

Construction work is on track to begin this summer at several Riverhead schools as part of a $78.3 million capital improvements bond, officials said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Renovations at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, which include enlarging the school’s library, are expected to begin June 25, said Larry Salvesen, an architect with BBS Architecture. The architecture firm has planned to stagger the construction, and is submitting plans for each school to the state for approval as they are finished.

With approvals for the projects on schedule, construction for Riley Avenue and Aquebogue schools will hopefully start later this summer, he said.

The renovations are part of the $78.3 million school bond for infrastructure repairs and renovations passed last year by Riverhead voters. The bond will cover roof and ventilation repairs at district schools, new science classrooms at Riverhead High School, parking lot reconfigurations, and renovated kitchen space at Aquebogue Elementary, Roanoke Avenue Elementary and Pulaski Street School.

A separate $7 million bond to build a new gym at Riverhead High School was rejected by voters.

Architects hired by the school submitted plans for Phillips Avenue school earlier this month. The State Education Department will return the plans with comments in about 10 to 12 weeks, with approval following about a week later.

Mr. Salvesen said Aquebogue school’s plans will be sent to the state Monday. Riley Avenue school’s plans are scheduled to be sent on May 1, but he added the company is trying to send the plans up sooner, in late April.

Under the current schedule, the high school will be the fourth school to begin renovations, with groundbreaking expected next spring.

Triton Construction CEO Nick Andreadis, who is overseeing the construction work for the bond renovations, said the construction plans was on schedule and that it was not unusual to have a year-long period between the bond passing and the beginning of construction.

“October seems like a long time ago … I’m sure that many of you as well as the community are looking out the windows and saying ‘When is something going to start happening?’” Mr. Andreadis said. “But typically it takes about a year from the time the bond is approved until the time that we can actually break ground on a project.”

psquire@timesreview.com

03/30/12 6:00pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Customers flocked to the Hallmark Card & Gift store owned by Allen Patel next to the King Kullen in Riverhead Friday afternoon.

One in 175.7 million.

Those are the odds to win Friday night’s $640 million Mega Millions jackpot, the largest lottery jackpot in world history. But don’t tell that to the thousands of customers who poured into stores across the North Fork Friday for the chance to win big.

For these lottery players, many of them playing for the first time, it’s not about the odds, but the dream.

“This is the first time I’m playing Mega,” said Rose LaBarca of Riverhead while she waited in line at the Hallmark store on Route 58 in Riverhead. She held up her ticket with bubbles filled in to match her children’s birthdays. “I didn’t even know how to do this, someone had to tell me.”

Gas stations and grocery stores from Riverhead to Greenport reported higher than usual turnouts, both from regulars and first-timers, ahead of tonight’s 11 p.m. drawing.

Qamar Zaman, a store manager at the 7-Eleven in Greenport said he had more than 1,000 people come into his store Thursday to buy tickets, and hasn’t counted the number who came in so far Friday. Mr. Zaman said he hasn’t seen lotto fever like this in years.

“Before there was that Powerball lottery, but this time it’s crazy people,” he said.

Allan Patel, who owns the Hallmark store in Riverhead, said he has never seen turnout like this in the 12 years that he has owned the store.

“A lot of people are hoping to win,” he said. “They say, ‘That much? Let me play!’”

Mr. Patel decked his store in streamers and signs and told each of the thousands of customers as they walked in the door that his store is “lucky;” several years ago, the location sold a $250,000 Mega Millions second place ticket.

Riverhead resident Maria Hand, who was playing with her sister Ms. LaBarca, said she hoped the luck would rub off, but added she was mostly playing for the fun.

“It’s fun to have a dream,” Ms. Hand said as she filled out her ticket. “And then just pray a lot.”

The drawing is scheduled for 11 p.m.

psquire@timesreview.com

03/30/12 4:00pm

Three Riverhead men indicted last year for their roles in an East End drug ring — including a former Riverhead schools janitor — pleaded guilty to lesser charges during court appearances this week.

Ramon “Pamp” Overton, an alleged street-level dealer, plead guilty to a felony third-degree attempted criminal sale of a controlled substance charge Thursday, said District Attorney spokesman Bob Clifford.

Troy “Troy-T” Trent, who worked at Pulaski Street School as a janitor, and Joseph “Slick” Gilliam,  pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree conspiracy charges on Monday and Thursday respectively.

Both were originally indicted on second-degree conspiracy charges last February after a year-long investigation by the East End Drug Task Force. Mr. Overton was indicted on more than a dozen charges last year, including 10 felonies, after the same investigation.

Investigators said Mr. Trent and Mr. Gilliam sold powdered and crack cocaine to Mr. Overton.

Mr. Overton will be sentenced May 24, and will serve three-and-a-half years in prison with one-and-a-half years of post-release supervision, a more rigorous probation, Mr. Clifford said.

Both Mr. Trent and Mr. Gilliam will serve one year of interim probation, Mr. Clifford said. As part of their year-long probation, both men cannot be arrested or test positive for drugs, Mr. Clifford said, or they will face possible jail time.

Mr. Trent will be formally sentenced on March 26, 2013 and Mr. Gilliam will be sentenced March 29, 2013.

Mr. Trent was also arrested after an alleged drunk driving accident last March.

Police said Mr. Trent was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Northville Turnpike and fled the scene on foot early March 6, 2011 . He was found by police shortly after the accident and was charged with DWI and leaving the scene of an accident, police said.

He was then barred from all Riverhead School District grounds and resigned from his position at Pulaski Street School last June.

psquire@timesreview.com

03/30/12 2:00pm

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Town Board members Jim Wooten and Jodi Giglio prepare a meal Thursday.

Who would win in a cook-off: politicians or truck drivers? Supporters hoping to build a new animal shelter for Riverhead town found out at a fundraiser Thursday night.

Town Councilman Jim Wooten and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio faced off against truck drivers Gregory Springer and Robert Pekar Thursday night to raise money for “Move the Animal Shelter,” an animal advocacy group founded last year that has raised more than $30,000 to build a new shelter and dog parks for Riverhead residents.

The fundraiser, held at Hy Ting Restaurant on West Main Street, drew more than 50 supporters, who sampled the cook’s dishes and voted for a winner.

Mr. Wooten and Ms. Giglio cooked a fried chicken brochette served with balsamic glaze, which they called “Politician Chicken,” while the two truck drivers served “Asian short rib” topped with wasabi mayo and cole slaw with peanut dressing. By the end of the night, it was barely a contest, with the truck drivers winning in a landslide victory.

Ms. Giglio said moving the animal shelter may help move negotiations forward with the non-profit advocacy group North Fork Animal Welfare League to privatize the shelter, a discussion that has reportedly stalled over contract negotiations. The town would also be able to find a “better use” for the Youngs Avenue property where the shelter currently sits.

MTAS founder Denise Lucas said she was happy with the turnout and said a donor at the event offered to fund a $650 flagpole at the planned dog park in Calverton.

“For a weekday event, it’s good,” she said. “Everybody seems to be in support of [the cause].”

Ms. Lucas said the town dog park at Calverton will be open by April 28, adding that the other two planned parks at Stotzky Park and Jamesport should open in May and June, respectively.

psquire@timesreview.com