08/30/13 3:17pm
08/30/2013 3:17 PM

Thomas A. Feeley Jr. of Southold died Aug. 29. He was 87 years old.

The family will receive visitors Monday, Sept. 2 from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at Coster-Heppner Funeral Home in Cutchogue. A funeral service will take place Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick R.C. Church in Southold. Burial will take place at Calverton National Cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to Southold Fire Department or Southold American Legion Post 803.

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

08/30/13 3:00pm
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58 stretches up to neighboring homes in Foxwood Village.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58 stretches up to neighboring homes in Foxwood Village.

To the Editor:

Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy has once again show his great skill at obfuscation. Look it up folks: it means to stupefy, to bewilder, to confuse.

When he was asked a question concerning his vote to allow clear cutting for the Shops at Riverhead/Costco development on Route 58 Monday night at the Suffolk Theater he attempted to deflect any criticism of himself by blaming an un-named resident of Foxwood Village.

That resident was me, Robert J. Hall.

Mr. Dunleavy said the unnamed resident was picked by the Recreation Committee at Foxwood Village. Wrong.

Truth: Nobody picked me to represent the neighborhood at Planning Board meetings. I volunteered my time to try to help my friends and neighbors, spending probably six or seven years tracking the progress of this development. John Dunleavy was nowhere to be seen.

Mr. Dunleavy said at the debates that the unnamed rep “didn’t know what was going on.”

Truth: John is probably right, because I am not a lawyer, and it appears as though our elected officials (who we expect to work for us) just rubber-stamp legislation without even reading it. Mr. Dunleavy said he voted for the land clearing permit because it met town code, whatever that means. And he voted very enthusiastically, as shown in the meeting minutes of April 2, 2013:

“I vote yes…We waited a long time and I vote yes.” He’s been a cheerleader for the Costco development from the beginning.

Mr. Dunleavy said Monday night the unnamed resident “never asked me for help.”

Truth: In July 2007 I sent him a note requesting a meeting to discuss concerns over this development. He never replied.

All the political posturing by the Town Board considering land-clearing legislation is worth nothing to the residents of Foxwood Village and Millbrook Community. On Sept. 12, 2007, I addressed a letter to the chairman of the Planning Board offering suggestions as to what modifications might address our concerns.

Of sight, sound and safety: increase the depth of the buffer, heavily plant mature evergreens on top of a berm, build a fence high enough and sturdy enough to deter prowlers, and I am now leaning toward making that fence 10-feet tall and made of concrete.

Let’s see what the politicians will do to help soften the impact of this clear-cutting permit.

Robert J. Hall, CALVERTON

08/30/13 1:00pm

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The federal government is pushing forward with plans to move the research facility on Plum Island to Kansas State University.

The federal government is pushing forward with plans to auction Plum Island to the highest bidder, despite repeated concerns raised by lawmakers and environmental groups that there is not enough information to support the sale.

The General Services Administration and Department of Homeland Security issued its “record of decision” last Thursday night. The recommendation is one of the last steps before the property is put to auction.

The agencies hope to close the research laboratory at Plum Island and use the profits from the island’s sale to cover the cost of constructing a new, $1.1 billion animal disease research laboratory in Manhattan, Kan. A facility at Kansas State University is necessary in order to study zoonotic diseases — illnesses that can be transferred from animals to people, said Homeland Security spokesman John Verrico.

The existing Plum Island lab does not have the capacity to study those types of diseases, Mr. Verrico said.

Additionally, Homeland Security wants to locate the research facility closer to veterinary schools and livestock, so samples can be received and processed faster, he said.

Meanwhile, elected leaders have taken issue with the the sale and taken steps to prevent development at the land.

Last month, Congressman Tim Bishop (D- Southampton) introduced “Save, don’t sell Plum Island,” a bill designed to overturn the 2008 congressional mandate for the federal government to sell the island.

Meanwhile, Southold Town approved new zoning laws Tuesday that would prevent any significant development of the island.

The record of decision comes two months after the General Services Administration released is final environmental study that suggested up to 500 homes could be built on the island.

The study had environmental groups up in arms, pointing to several holes in the document, including citing the discovery of mammoth bones on the island that were later found to be discovered on Plum Island, Mass., not New York.

The General Services Administration and Homeland Security issued a joint statement saying the agencies issued the record of decision after considering “all the factors discovered and analyzed” during the National Environmental Policy Act process.

Mr. Verrico said there is no estimate of what the 840-acre island could fetch at auction, but said the sale was at least five years away.

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08/30/13 11:00am

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Mitch Identsohn will see an increased role on both defense and offense this year for the Wildcats.

As the leader of the Shoreham-Wading River defense this season, senior Mitch Identsohn plays what’s affectionately referred to as the “stud” linebacker. Such a title undoubtedly brings hefty expectations.

“He’s kind of the guy we move around and put at the point of attack,” said Shoreham coach Matt Millheiser. “We want to put our best player where [the opposing team] is going to go and put him in the middle of the action.”

As a two-way player for the Wildcats, Identsohn will have a crucial role on both sides of the field this season for a team looking to take the next step from playoff team to legit contender.

On offense, Identsohn plays tight end, where his primary role is the gritty work of run blocking. It’s the kind of unheralded role that often goes unnoticed in the box score, but that’s fine with Identsohn.

“In the games and especially in the [film] room when you make a key block that opens up a run, the coaches let you know,” Identsohn said. “When we’re in the film room, all the lineman get credit for what they do.”

Identsohn understands a team’s running game is only as good as its offensive line. And at Shoreham, the Wildcats have always been a run-first team. That won’t change this year with senior Tyler Anderson back after a 1,500-yard rushing season a year ago.

Identsohn first came up to varsity as a sophomore when he played as wingback/slot receiver on offense. At the start of his junior season he competed for the tight end position and won the starting job. A defensive end in 10th grade, Identsohn started playing linebacker last year and flourished. He finished the season with 54 total tackles, one off the team lead. He had one sack and an interception that he returned for a touchdown against McGann-Mercy.

Millheiser said Identsohn came up to the varsity as a 10th-grader “with a bunch of potential.” Now as a senior he’s the go-to player on defense and a team leader.

“One of the biggest things with Mitch is his toughness and durability,” Millheiser said. “His leadership not only in the season, but in the offseason. He’ll get kids in workouts and get other kids he knows that are good athletes involved and out for the team. He’s been valuable to the program in the season and out of season.”

Identsohn said as a senior he sees the game from a different perspective. “You’re in control and everyone looks up to you,” he said. “You’re supposed to lead the team and set and example for all the other juniors and sophomores on the team.”

Identsohn will be in charge of calling plays on the field and making sure his teammates are lined up in the right position. It’s a big change from his defensive end position he played two years ago, where his main focus was on stopping the run.

“I like it a lot more,” he said. “There’s pressure because people expect you to make those tackles and be at the spot to make the play. But I kind of enjoy having the pressure.”

Identsohn and Anderson are the two returning mainstays at linebacker. A few other newcomers are fighting for the other positions.

Millheiser said the linebackers will often rotate around the field based on certain plays, which makes communication critical.

“Sometimes things can be a little complex,” he said. “They do a good job talking to each other and making sure they’re lined up correctly.”

On offense last year, Identsohn wasn’t heavily featured in the passing game. He caught 4 passes for 58 yards and one touchdown.

With junior quarterback Danny Hughes having a year of experience under his belt, Identsohn could play a bigger role in the passing game this year. Teams will be focused on stopping the running game. And wide receiver Isreal Squires is a player on the outside who can command double teams.

That could leave the middle of the field open for a player like Identsohn, at 6-foot, 195-pounds, to be a big target for Hughes.

“We’re definitely going to try to find mismatches if we can,” Millheiser said. “With that kind of size and his athletic ability, you want to try to utilize that.”

Identsohn would welcome a bigger role in the passing game, but at the end of the day, he said, it’s all about the team scoring touchdowns.

“It’s not about who scores, as long as we get the touchdown,” he said.

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08/30/13 7:01am
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO  |  Riverhead and state police investigate the scene of the hit-and-run that killed Kristina Tfelt on Route 58 near Woodcrest Avenue in July.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Riverhead and state police investigate the scene of the hit-and-run that killed Kristina Tfelt on Route 58 near Woodcrest Avenue in July.

About two months ago, Brooke Wayte approached the podium in a Suffolk County courtroom and confronted the driver who struck and killed her father on East Main Street last December and drove off. Then, after making her statement, she sat down in the courtroom and watched as Joseph Plummer — a 49-year-old two-time felon — received his sentence: 2 to 6 years in prison.

For Ms. Wayte, the punishment was “a slap in the face.”

“Two to six years to somebody who has already committed two felonies is nothing,” she told the News-Review this week.

Scott Wayte of Brookhaven was out celebrating his 50th birthday with family on Dec. 28, when he was struck and killed by Mr. Plummer, who fled the scene and later attempted to cover up the crime, authorities said.

Seven months later, and a week after Mr. Plummer’s sentencing, Kristina Tfelt — a young Riverhead mother — was killed when she was hit by a Cadillac on Route 58 in an unrelated hit-and-run crash. The two men who ran from the car that July night have not been caught.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office along with local law enforcement, attorneys and victimized families have pushed for harsher punishments for those who leave the scene of serious car accidents, saying the legal system currently lets felons or drunken drivers who run from accidents get off easy. After Mr. Plummer’s arrest, District Attorney Thomas Spota held a press conference, pointing to that case as a prime example of why state lawmakers need to step up and change the law.

EDITORIAL: State must act to fix laws on hit-and-run crashes

Despite support from the New York State Senate, a bill to ramp up penalties for hit-and-run drivers statewide stalled in the Assembly and will have to be taken up again when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“They were hoping that my dad’s case would push this ahead, and push it into something more, and get [the law] changed so that no one else has to go through what we’re going through now,” Ms. Wayte said. “People are getting away with this every single day, so now if you don’t make the sentence higher, people are just going to keep doing it.“

Though county law enforcement officials could not immediately provide statistics on such incidents locally, Mr. Spota said his office has seen a spike in hit-and-runs in the past few years.

“I don’t know what it is or why it is. Now it’s just — bam! — off to the races,” he said in an interview last week. “Nobody is stopping anymore, it seems, and what’s happening is they’re getting the benefit.”

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Relatives and friends of Kristina Tfelt gathered for funeral services in Center Moriches.

Another pedestrian was struck and killed early Friday in a hit-and-run accident in Setauket. The driver in that incident remains at large.

As of now, according to the New York State Penal Code, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death is a class D felony that carries a maximum sentence of 2 to 7 years in prison. Prosecutors say fleeing the scene makes it harder for authorities to bring a driver up on harsher charges.

RELATED: Two days, three arrests for leaving crash scenes

“Take Plummer for an example,” Mr. Spota said. “We know from people at [his] work that he was drinking from the morning until he left work. More than likely he was intoxicated but by the time we got him, two days later, he was sober.”

Mr. Plummer also dodged harsher charges for killing Mr. Wayte because of the section of law the “leaving the scene” felony falls under.

COURTESY PHOTO | Scott Wayte, who was killed in a hit-and-run crash on East Main Street in December while celebrating his 50th birthday with family.

“By leaving the scene, we couldn’t get him for the manslaughter, we couldn’t prove the intoxication and, under vehicle and traffic law, there is no such thing as a prior felony offender,” Mr. Spota said.

Even though Mr. Plummer attempted to cover up his crime by concealing the damaged car under a tarp, prosecutors could charge him only with the Class D felony for leaving the scene. Under the changes proposed in Albany, establishing a C felony for leaving a fatal crash scene, Mr. Plummer would have faced 7 to 15 years in prison.

In response to the rash of fatal car accidents, Suffolk County police established a Vehicular Crime Unit, and Mr. Spota’s office set up a task force of prosecutors who go to hit-and-run incidents and immediately begin working with police.

But Mr. Spota said that until the law is changed, there is little incentive for people to remain at accident scenes if they have something to hide. At Mr. Plummer’s sentencing, Mr. Spota held another press conference, this time with Mr. Wayte’s family, urging the Assembly to pass the bill.

Mr. Spota said he hopes whoever is elected to the now-open North Fork Assembly seat will take up the cause.

“I’ve implored them every single time we’ve had one of these [hit-and-runs] and at the sentencing,” Mr. Spota said. “I just can’t get through.”

Riverhead Town police have said hit-and-runs, both serious and minor, are up across town. Riverhead Lt. David Lessard believes the trend is due to the town’s rising population and drunk or unlicensed drivers who are trying to avoid more serious charges.

“They feel that if they flee the scene at that point they won’t be charged with a charge that could be much more severe,” Lt. Lessard said. “They might feel it’s to their advantage.”

Lt. Lessard said the department supports the DA’s proposal, though he’s not sure how much of a deterrent higher penalties might be.

Hit-and-runs also put a strain on civil cases, said attorney Michael Sabolinski, a former Nassau County prosecutor now working for Schwartzapfel Lawyers of Jericho.

“We have a ton of cases that are hit-and-run related, whether its pedestrians or cars hitting cars,” he said, adding that “the punishment is just not there.”

Mr. Sabolinski said he understands that sometimes accidents are just accidents, but he said fleeing the scene of a fatality should never be incentivized.

“It’s gotta be on par with the most serious vehicular offense,” he said. “It’s gotta be your top of the line. That’s vehicular homicide because that’s a conscious decision.”

But Robert Schalk — a defense lawyer with the Mineola law firm Collins, McDonald & Gann and also a former Nassau County prosecutor — said increased punishments might lead to over-prosecution.

“You have to careful of the people you’re lumping together,” he said.

Mr. Schalk said that while the DA here may have the manpower to review each case to ensure proper punishments, that may not be the case in other parts of the state.

Outreach efforts would play a large role in spreading awareness of the need to remain at accident scenes, he said, noting prior efforts in Nassau County to compel hit-and-run drivers, through plea deals, to speak to students at local high schools about the dangers of driving.

“I think that type of proactive prosecution … is a good way of getting the message out there,” he said.

Yet Mr. Schalk agreed that leaving the scene of a fatal accident should have a higher maximum penalty.

Brooke Wayte said she thinks the bill to increase the penalties stalled because legislators were concerned about harsh punishments for “mistakes.” But Mr. Plummer’s lack of remorse, she said, proves hit-and-runs aren’t mistakes.

“If you make a mistake, you stay, you try to do something,” she said. “If this guy knew he made a mistake, he would have turned himself in. And I firmly believe he would have never turned himself in had he never been caught. No one would have ever known it was him.

“This guy ran off and left my dad there,” she said. “He didn’t care … Now it’s like it didn’t even matter. Like what he did is okay.”

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08/30/13 7:00am

GOOGLE MAPS | Three unrelated hit-and-run crashes involving alleged drunken drivers happened this past weekend in the Riverhead area, though no serious injuries were reported. The crashes, denoted above, occurred in Aquebogue, Northampton and Flanders.

In just one weekend, three men found themselves facing drunken driving charges after allegedly fleeing the scenes of unrelated car accidents in the Riverhead area.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has been pushing for stronger penalties for drivers who flee the scenes of serious accidents, saying that when drivers aren’t caught until much later, investigators are often unable to prove they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.

But even drunken drivers who leave the scenes of crashes that don’t involve injuries can avoid a more serious DWI charge by eluding police. This creates an incentive for offenders to flee but creates more problems for those who may be left footing repair bills.

“It’s easy to get away, especially if you did a number on the person you’re hitting,” said Michael Sabolinski, a civil attorney with Schwartzapfel Partners of Jericho and a former Nassau County assistant district attorney.

Mr. Spota says he has seen an increase in hit-and-run accidents over the last few years.

The first of the crashes this weekend occurred Saturday night in Aquebogue, where a seafood delivery truck driver smashed into the back of a car he was tailgating before driving away, authorities said. The driver, Brian Pressler of Southold, was arrested minutes later, at about 8 p.m., on Main Road in Laurel, where he was arrested for driving while intoxicated, Southold police said.

He was later issued a citation from Riverhead police for leaving the scene of an accident with property damage, a traffic infraction. Riverhead police said Mr. Pressler had his high beams on and was tailgating a brown Honda at the intersection of Main Road and Edgar Avenue when he rear-ended the vehicle. He was released without bail.

Less than three hours after the Laurel crash, a Riverhead man was arrested after leaving the scene of an accident on Wildwood Trail in Northampton, in which he and another person were injured, Southampton Town police said.

Gregory Lee, 43, was involved in a two-car crash shortly after 11 p.m., officials said. He drove off from the scene, but responding cops canvassed the area and found him intoxicated a short distance from the crash, police said. Both Mr. Lee and the driver of the other car were taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. Mr. Lee was charged with DWI and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, a misdemeanor, police said.

He was taken from the hospital to police headquarters and has since been released on $750 cash bail.

Then on Sunday night, a Riverhead man who fled the scene of a single-car accident in Riverside was arrested on a DWI charge after cops caught up with him at his Ludlam Avenue house soon after, Southampton police said.

Paul Ciochetto, 44, drove from the 11 p.m. crash scene near Flanders Road in a 2008 Toyota Yaris, police said.

After police found him at his home, Mr. Ciochetto admitted to driving his car, but claimed not to have realized he’d been involved in an accident, cops said.

Police determined Mr. Ciochetto was drunk and arrested him at his home, officials said. He was charged with DWI, leaving the scene of an accident with property damage and traffic violations, police said. He was released without bail, police said.

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08/30/13 7:00am

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Friends set up a memorial on Route 58 for hit-and-run victim Kristina Tfelt a few days after her death.

It should go without saying that tough drunk driving laws have prevented countless deaths here and across the United States. But there are also the laws of unintended consequences.

Local and state law enforcement officers and prosecutors have come to notice a loophole in state penal law when it comes to prosecuting drivers in fatal hit-and-run accidents. It’s a hole that lets real criminals off on lighter sentences, creating another set of victims in the form of surviving family members left to cope not only with the loss of a loved one but also with the feeling that justice had never been served.

As things stand, there’s actually an incentive for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to flee serious accidents rather than stay on scene and, say, call 911 for immediate help. That’s because standing by could lead to much harsher charges. Heading home — or hiding out — gives a driver time to sober up. And self-preservation can be a powerful emotion in an emergency.

The state Senate has supported legislation that would impose harsher penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal crash. These penalties can be just as harsh as the same vehicular manslaughter laws someone could face if he or she were found to have been driving drunk during such a crash. But the bill stalled in the state Assembly in the last legislative session.

It’s being said that Albany lawmakers are concerned that some people, who may or may not be drunk, could end up being punished too severely for panicking and fleeing the scene of an accident. And safeguards to prevent decent people from serving long prison sentences should be addressed in any changes to the law. But such concerns are no excuse to do nothing.

Certainly, lawmakers could agree that rewarding drunken people for fleeing crash scenes — even in non-serious accidents, which can be quite pricey for victims — is a problem that must be dealt with. While stiffer penalties may not deter such incidents, there are real issues of justice at hand.

08/29/13 7:00pm
08/29/2013 7:00 PM
RIVERHEAD FOUNDATION COURTESY PHOTO | Roxanne, a Risso's dolphin was released Wednesday morning.

RIVERHEAD FOUNDATION COURTESY PHOTO | Roxanne, a Risso’s dolphin was released Wednesday morning.

Roxanne, the 700-pound Risso’s dolphin found marooned on a Jones Beach Island sandbar, is swimming freely once again after being released Wednesday by her caretakers from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research.

Riverhead Foundation officials were seeking help raising funds needed for her release from rehabilitation. In all, about $35,000 was needed to completely fund her rehabilitation and release, according to a foundation spokeswoman.

The 9-foot dolphin was transported by truck to the Shinnecock Commercial Dock in Hampton Bays about 8:30 a.m., where she was loaded onto Stony Brook University’s boat, Sea Wolf.

The Sea Wolf took her 20 miles offshore, where she was released into ocean waters, according to a release.

It took an 18-member team, a crane, a transport truck and the Sea Wolf to carry her back into the ocean, according to the non-profit’s officials.

She was fitted with a satellite tracking device. Her travels can soon be tracked on the foundations webpage.

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