02/28/13 8:00am
02/28/2013 8:00 AM

A screenshot of the Facebook page called Ashley Come Home.

Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” in 1962 to describe how our world was being transformed by electronic technology and its ability to carry information anywhere in an instant. Could he have envisioned back then how accurate his assessment would prove to be five decades later?

Did he imagine the rise of the Internet and the more recent phenomenon of social networking? The evolution of the specific systems is less noteworthy than his accurate description of the direction we were headed.

For proof, look no further than this week’s search for a 16-year-old Peconic girl who went missing after she left home Monday morning but never made it to school. The case is following two non-parallel tracks: the police investigation and the sharing of information and comments on social media. With the exception of issuing a missing persons report, investigators are conducting their search in relative quiet. That’s standard police procedure — and it works. But in the age of Facebook, there’s a not entirely separate approach that deputizes virtually anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone.

Will that help the investigation? It’s too early to tell. Will it hinder the search? We certainly hope not, but this is uncharted territory, on the North Fork at least, and there are no real local precedents to refer to.

Given all the fear and anxiety surrounding the disappearance, it comes as no surprise that many online commenters are taking what appear to be unjustified pot shots at the police. But this is not “CSI” or a similar television show where each case is wrapped up in less than an hour. Police work is often quite time-consuming and rarely provides immediate results. On Tuesday, Southold Town police took the unusual step of issuing a missing persons report with the type of poster — bearing the girl’s name and photo — usually associated with more suburban and urban settings. And that’s where social media can provide valuable assistance.

Did anyone see her, hear from her, receive a text from her? That’s the type of information needed to help find Ashley Murray and, we hope, return her safely home.

Keep Ashley in your thoughts and prayers with the hope that police and their digital deputies can bring the case to a happy conclusion.

02/28/13 6:00am
Homeowners insurance and pit bulls

COURTESY PHOTO | Pit bull Lulu wearing a homeowners insurance policy cancellation notice.

To the Editor:

I love dogs. I spend a lot of time helping various rescue organizations and local shelters as well as advocating for certain breeds.

I have had dogs my entire life and each one was special in their own way. They aren’t just pets, but members of our family. And no other dog has better exemplified this than my pit bull, Lulu. My wife and I rescued her nine years ago and she has been an integral part of our lives ever since. She has not only changed our lives, but dozens of others who previously had a negative bias when it came to pit bulls.

Which is why I was shocked when my homeowners insurance company decided, out-of-the-blue, to drop us. Simply because we owned her.

Not because of a complaint or a claim or an incident of any kind. According to Otsego Mutual, her breed alone is a liability.

On a routine check of the property, a “field agent” knocked on my door while we were at work and heard Lulu bark. A few days later I received a letter from their office, stating that it had “come to their attention that there is a dog on the premises” and that I need to “provide details” about her, specifically her age and her breed.

I wrote back that she was 9, a terrier (which is her classification on all her paperwork from the shelter) and that she had no bite history. I added that she was up to date on her vaccinations and could provide proof if necessary. Four days later, I get my cancelation letter. No follow-up, no phone call, no evaluation of any kind and no chance for arbitration. Canceled. End of story.

I was dumbfounded. I know breed discrimination is nothing new. I know that over 600 cities nationwide have enacted legislation to ban certain breeds, most notably pit bulls. But the truth is, Lulu, just like millions of other “uninsurable dogs,” is a sweet, caring animal.

She, like the others, simply is not the vicious monster the media has depicted. That distinction belongs to the people and institutions that are prejudiced in their operations and policies against them. Who is more inhuman? Lulu, a decades-old faithful companion, or the insurance company that drops her owner because she exists?

Michael Versandi, Sound Beach

To read all of the Letters to the Editor, pick up a copy of the News-Review on newsstands or click on the E-Paper.

02/27/13 5:00pm

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney discusses the board’s budget goals at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The Riverhead School District will invest an additional $25,000 in equipment purchases next school year, marking the only significant controllable increase in the portion of the budget unveiled by Superintendent Nancy Carney Tuesday night.

The presentation covered the areas of curriculum, instruction, operations and transportation, accounting for nearly $55 million in the superintendent’s proposed 2013-14 budget. The entire budget proposal will be presented to the public April 9.

Ms. Carney said the additional equipment funds would be used to purchase a tractor that can convert to a snow blower, a floor cleaner and a new sander.

“These are pieces of equipment that we plan to purchase next year that are very necessary for the ongoing maintenance of the building,” Ms. Carney said.

The purchases will raise the equipment line in the district’s budget to $65,000, up more than 60 percent from the $40,000 budgeted for the previous two school years.

Ms. Carney said most of that money will go to “antiquated equipment we need to replace.”

Other increases in the budget areas unveiled Tuesday include a 4.2 percent hike in transportation service contracts, a 3.5 percent increase in maintenance service contracts, a 3.2 percent boost in BOCES spending and a 2.5 percent increase in security salaries.

Among the significant reductions are a 5.6 percent drop in contractual classroom expenses, a 4 percent decrease in non-instructional salaries and a 3.8 percent decrease in maintenance supply costs.

In total, the items covered Tuesday showed an increase of about $1 million over the current year’s budget.

On March 19, Ms. Carney will unveil the projected tax levy.

The board is expected to adopt the proposed spending plan at its April 23 meeting, and the budget vote is scheduled for May 21.

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02/27/13 4:03pm
Riverhead's top DWI cop

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead Town Police Officer Timothy Murphy (center) is honored Tuesday with (L-R) Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Riverhead Town Police Officer Timothy Murphy was honored once more as one of Suffolk County’s top cops in DWI arrests.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone honored Mr. Murphy along with 23 others officers in a ceremony Tuesday morning for making the most driving while intoxicated arrests throughout Suffolk County. He made 104 DWI arrests last year, said Police Chief David Hegermiller.

“Officer Murphy consistently ranks in the top for DWI arrests in the entire county of Suffolk,” Chief Hegermiller said. “There is no doubt that his diligent efforts in removing drunks drivers from our streets saves lives.”

Officer Murphy was also honored in 2010 when he made the most DWI arrests of any officer in Suffolk County with 86, Suffolk County Police said.

“He’s been here 10 or 11 years now and he’s consistently leading a lot of categories in driving while intoxicated arrests, for 10 years straight,” said Riverhead Police Lieutenant David Lessard.

Mr. Murphy was a New York City police officer for close to nine years before coming to Riverhead, Lt. Lessard said.

“DWI arrests are important to Suffolk County, and they are important to the town of Riverhead,” Mr. Murphy said. “I am just doing what my job is.

“It’s such an unfortunate thing when a DWI affects someone’s life. Tragic losses are so hard to deal with.”

Mr. Murphy said DWI offences seem to be a prevalent thing in Riverhead.

“I wish there were no DWI arrests,” he said. “You wish those numbers were down, you wish they weren’t there making the offence.”

Suffolk County police agencies made more than 5,100 DWI arrests in 2012, Mr. Bellone said.

“Suffolk County will not tolerate drunk driving on our roadways,” Mr. Bellone said. “We remain committed to arresting anyone who chooses to drink and then get behind the wheel of a car, endangering the lives of others.”

“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Lt. Lessard.  “He has definitely saved countless lives, there’s no doubt about it.”

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02/27/13 2:28pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | (L-R) Eric Baldwin Jr., Jasmine Parsons, Jeffrey Despeines and Jordan Harrell, were all arraigned on felony reckless endangerment charges Thursday morning.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | (L-R) Eric Baldwin Jr., Jasmine Parsons, Jeffrey Despeines and Jordan Harrell, as they were led into Riverhead court Feb. 14. They were later indicted by a grand jury.

A bullet found at the scene of a Third Street drive-by shooting earlier this month matches shell casings found in the car from which four people were arrested after the shooting prosecutors said in Suffolk County criminal courtroom Wednesday.

Three of the four people arrested in connection with the shooting pleaded not guilty to felony reckless endangerment and weapons charges after being indicted by a grand jury. Eric Baldwin Jr., 18, of Bellport, Jordan Harrell, 18, of Medford, and former Riverhead resident Jasmine Parsons, 19, now of Mastic, are facing first-degree reckless endangerment charges.

Mr. Baldwin was also charged with fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon after police found he had brass knuckles during his arrest.

The alleged shooter, Jeffrey Despeines, 21, of Centereach, had his arraignment moved to Friday.

Riverhead Town police responded to the house on Third Street just before 9 p.m. on Feb. 13 after hearing gunfire. A nearby officer on patrol said he saw a Ford Taurus leaving the scene of the shooting and stopped the car soon after, arresting the group on nearby Peconic Avenue, police said.

Authorities said they found spent shell casings on the floor of the car, allegedly driven by Ms. Parsons. Those casings were later matched to “at least” one bullet dug from the house, prosecutors said. Police also discovered Mr. Despeines had a spent magazine in his shirt pocket at the time of his arrest and had a loaded Smith & Wesson .38-caliber semiautomatic handgun, prosecutors said.

The assistant district attorney at Wednesday’s arraignment also revealed the registration on the gun had been defaced.

Mr. Despeines is accused of being the shooter in the drive-by, allegedly firing seven rounds into a two-family house with several adults and two young children inside.

No one was injured in the incident.

Mr. Baldwin had a prior arrest for third-degree assault in 2011 adjudicated, prosecutors said. In previous court appearances, prosecutors had said Mr. Baldwin is involved in a gang. Mr. Baldwin’s defense attorney said he lived with his parents and asked for nominal bail to be set.

Judge William Condon said Mr. Baldwin had failed to appear in court several times during his “albeit brief” criminal history. Mr. Baldwin was held in Suffolk County jail on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.

Ms. Parsons, the alleged driver in the drive-by shooting, has an “extensive criminal history” including a prior conviction for attempted robbery, prosecutors said.

She is currently on probation after serving a six-month sentence. She was also held on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.

Mr. Harrell has three pending cases in Suffolk County court, authorities said, one for endangering the welfare of a child in November 2011, one for criminal contempt in February 2011 and a pending felony assault charge from last October. He was held at Suffolk County jail on $100,000 cash bail or $200,000 bond.

Mr. Despeines was scheduled to be arraigned on grand jury charges as the shooter in the drive-by, but his lawyer did not attend court Wednesday afternoon. His arraignment was rescheduled to Friday.

A friend of Ms. Parsons and the family of Mr. Harrell attended the court proceedings to support the suspects.

Toni Harrell, Mr. Harrell’s mother, said her son was helping her with groceries the day of the shooting when he told her he was going to take a ride with Mr. Baldwin, Ms. Harrell’s cousin.

She said her son didn’t know the other people in the car and rejected the prosecutor’s claim that he had an “apparent gang affiliation.”

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ms. Harrell said. “He didn’t have anything to do with this.”

Mr. Harrell will be a father in April, his mother added.

“He wants to come home to see his son born,” she said.

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02/27/13 12:44pm

Bernice Sujeski of Mattituck died Feb. 27 at home.

Visiting hours will take place Friday, March 1, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. A service will be held Saturday, March 2, at 9:30 a.m. at St. Isidore R.C. Church in Riverhead, followed by interment at the church cemetery.

A full obituary will appear in a future edition of the News-Review.

This is a paid notice.

02/27/13 12:24pm

Southold Police issued a Missing Person poster Wednesday with details on 16-year-old Ashley Murray of Peconic.

The search for a Peconic teen missing since Monday went viral this week, as local appeals to find her were shared over social networking sites across the country and beyond.

Ashley Murray, 16, was last seen at 8:30 a.m., the time she normally leaves her home on Spring Lane to catch the school bus.

She never arrived at school.

“You just keep hoping that the game is up and she’ll come walking through the door,” her mother, Charlotte, said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

[Previous Coverage: Missing teen left suicide note, mom says]

Ms. Murray learned of her daughter’s disappearance after receiving a call from school officials who told her social workers got word from students who had received texts from Ashley that said she would kill herself. Her mom later found a note from her daughter, which she called a “suicide note,” saying it made reference to a “watery grave.”

“This was all thought out and planned the night before,” Ms. Murray said.

Southold Police initially employed a marine patrol, its canine unit and a Suffolk County Police helicopter to perform a physical search Monday morning, but later focused their investigation on the possibility that she may have left the area. They then ended the active local search Monday afternoon and began to concentrate on examining phone and computer records, and interviewing close friends and family, police said.

Police did not release an official missing person report until Wednesday morning, more than 50 hours after Ashley’s disappearance. Law enforcement officials said Ashley’s case does not fit criteria for an “Amber Alert,” since she is not believed to have been abducted.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Ashley Murray (above) should contact Southold Police at 765-2600.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Ashley Murray (above) should contact Southold Police at 765-2600.

That did not stop local residents from conducting their own searches and using social media to reach thousands of concerned web surfers from across the country.

A missing poster created Tuesday night by the Facebook page “Missing,” which has a reach of about 125,000 Facebook users, was already shared by more than 14,000 people the following morning, with an additional 1,200 people “liking” the poster and another 1,000 users commenting.

“Shared in Ottawa, Ontario Canada,” one user wrote.

“I encourage everyone to pray for this young girl,” said another commenter.

Locally, friends of Ashley created a Facebook page called “Ashley Come Home,” which was already followed by more than 1,000 Facebook users just hours after its creation. Users shared their photos of Ashley and the page, where they made desperate pleas for their friend to return safely.

“If anyone knows ANYTHING that could help lead to Ashley’s safe return please tell someone as soon as possible! We need to know as much as we can so we can find this beautiful young lady!” the moderator of the page wrote.

Many of her classmates posted that they were out searching locally for their friend, who they said was often bullied in school.

Ashley is 5-foot 4-inches and 140 pounds with reddish-brown hair, her mother said. She was last seen wearing red sweatpants “four sizes too big,” black boots and a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood, Charlotte Murray said. Police added that she has a scar on her right wrist and wears hearing aids in both ears.

“She didn’t even leave with a winter coat,” her mom said, and she left behind medication she must take for anemia.

Ashley’s mom also said her daughter has never run away from home before.

“I’d like for her to come home,” Ms. Murray said, adding that she hadn’t slept since her daughter went missing Monday morning.

Ms. Murray said her daughter’s phone is turned off or not working.

Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said the district has been cooperating with the Southold Police Department since the investigation began Monday.

“We have deep, deep concerns about her whereabouts and her safety,” Mr. Gamberg said. “Anything and everything we can do we will do.”

Anyone with information should contact Southold Police at (631) 765-2600. Information will remain confidential.

[email protected]


02/27/13 10:55am

Robert E. Butkos of Riverhead died Feb. 25 at the Riverhead Care Center. He was 76.

Born April 11, 1936, in Michigan to Andrew and Elizabeth Butkos, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1954 to

1962. He worked at H. Sacks & Son in East Quogue and at Kurt Weiss Florist in Mattituck.

He belonged to the Royal Order of Moose and loved spending time with his family, they said.

Mr. Butkos is survived by his children, Laurie, Robert Jr., Darryl, David, Teresa Patterson and Susan Williams; and six grandchildren.

Visiting hours will be held Thursday, Feb. 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. Interment will take place Friday, March 1, at 12:30 p.m. at Calverton National Cemetery.