02/06/14 4:49pm
02/06/2014 4:49 PM
HOWARD FEREBEE MUG SHOT

HOWARD FEREBEE MUG SHOT

“No one was more surprised in that courtroom than me.”

Not typical words coming from a defense attorney, moments after one of his client’s cases ended.

Just before potential jurors were set to enter the courtroom, a Riverhead taxi driver — 29-year-old Howard Ferebee Jr. — accused of being the getaway man in a Horton Avenue burglary last year, pleaded guilty to a lower charge Thursday afternoon in a bizarre court appearance that lasted nearly 20 minutes as the defendant peppered the judge and his attorney with questions.

(more…)

08/11/13 8:00am
08/11/2013 8:00 AM

ROBERT O”ROURK PHOTO | The Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament at the Horton Avenue court featured some intense competition Saturday.

There’s a unique bond formed between players on a basketball court. During a game — even in the heat of competition — players can develop a respect for one another.

It’s that thinking that led Riverhead residents Dwayne Eleazer and Larry Williams to create the Stop the Violence Basketball Tournament. Now in its seventh year, the tournament has blossomed into an annual showcase of outstanding basketball — all in the hopes of bringing the community together and curtailing future violence.

“You can come on a basketball court and play without any violence, you might see that person in the street,” Mr. Eleazer said in between games Saturday on the first day of the tournament. “I played ball with him, we can talk this out.”

The latest tournament at the Riverhead Town basketball court on Horton Avenue hit even closer to home this year. Just over six months ago, Riverhead resident Demitri Hampton was killed in a still unsolved shooting.

Mr. Hampton’s mother, Juanita Trent, ran a raffle during the tournament to raise money for the scholarship formed in her son’s honor. By midday Saturday, she already had more than $400 and was hoping to reach $1,000 by the tournament’s conclusion Sunday.

Ms. Trent said her son Jamal Davis has played in the tournament several times and did so again this year.

Players wore T-shirts with names on the back of people hurt by street violence.

The event has grown to where teams from all across the region come to compete for the nearly $2,000 prize. Teams from New York City and New Jersey participated this year.

Clarence Alonzo, a 2004 Longwood graduate, said his team was prepared to defend its title from a year ago.

“We probably have two good teams that can give us a run for our money,” Mr. Alonzo said. “Everybody else has to buckle their seatbelt up and take this ride with us.”

The biggest competition was likely a team led by 6-foot-6 J.J. Moore, a former Brentwood player who played at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s currently going into his senior year at Rutgers after transferring.

In the past, NBA player A.J. Price has even shown up to play. Organizers weren’t sure whether Mr. Price would make an appearance this year.

“He plays on one of the better teams,” said referee Cliff Rowland of Center Moriches. “He’s like one of the ringers. In the championship game, A.J. shows up.”

Mr. Williams said the event is also an opportunity to bring together the community and police officers.

“If the guy’s know the officer, and the officer’s know them, if there’s a problem you’re more apt to talk to each other,” he said.

As many as 500 people stopped by the tournament Saturday, which ran all day. There were nine teams (one dropped out) playing in a double elimination tournament. The semifinals and championship are Sunday.

joew@timesreview.com

07/13/13 8:00am
07/13/2013 8:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris during demolitions on Horton Avenue last fall.

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris during Horton Avenue demolitions last fall.

A plan for Riverhead Town to use federal grant money to install flood-prevention measures on Horton Avenue has stalled after a new engineering report forced the price of the project to jump nearly five times higher.

Now town officials say unless they can secure more grant funding, the drainage plan is dead in the water.

“I think the [Town] Board is not going to be able to go forward with the second phase,” said Supervisor Sean Walter. “The money just isn’t there. We can’t print money like the federal government.”

The original proposal for $600,000 worth of drainage installation was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through a reimbursement grant in October 2011, more than a year after torrential rains flooded Horton Avenue, forcing out more than a dozen families whose homes were damaged by the waters.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A plan to prevent this section of Horton Avenue from flooding has been put on hold, town officials said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A plan to prevent this section of Horton Avenue from flooding has been put on hold.

But a new report discovered by the town’s engineering department has revealed that the amount of land that drains into the Horton Avenue area is nearly double what was originally estimated. That drove the price up to $2.9 million, town officials said.

Town engineer Drew Dillingham said a report filed by a consulting firm in 1979 shows the acreage that feeds into the watershed was “significantly higher” than the 700 acres he originally estimated.

Mr. Dillingham checked the area again and found that the acreage was closer to 1,200.

“Everything ends up there, or in the vicinity,” he said. “What that means is, you’ve got a lot more water coming to your design than you initially anticipated.”

Mr. Dillingham said he was rushed on the initial study because of tight FEMA deadlines.

“This was a slam-together, fast-estimate job,” he said. “Everything was in crisis mode.”

The original plan called for shallow channels called swales to be dug north of Reeves Avenue in a farm field, he said. But because about twice as much water flows into the area near Horton Avenue, the new design calls for moving the swales by clearing a wooded area east of Horton Avenue and replacing it with sand trenches, digging out a nearby dry pond seven feet down to groundwater and creating a man-made wetland that would catch the rainwater.

Out of the $2.9 million cost of the new project, about $2.3 million would pay for labor to remove the wooded area, with the remaining $600,000 set aside for materials and plantings, Mr. Dillingham said.

Mr. Dillingham said that because the town was forced to update the plan and increase the price, FEMA would now demand the town put more of its own money into the project.

He said Police Chief David Hegermiller, who is the town’s FEMA liaison, is trying to find other ways to fund the project.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | It took more than a week for flood waters on Horton Avenue to subside last spring. About a dozen houses were ruined.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | It took more than a week for flood waters on Horton Avenue to subside after the 2010 storm. About a dozen houses were ruined.

“We are in fact looking at other grants to get this done,” he said, adding that Chief Hegermiller is also considering building a sump in the area, a cheaper alternative to the current $2.9 million proposal. Mr. Dillingham said the sump would provide more “more bang for your buck,” but he was unsure if FEMA places restrictions on what type of solutions the town could use for that area.

The man-made wetlands management project was part of a larger $3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that let the town buy back homes from the flood victims at pre-flood values and demolish the houses.

Though the wetlands project has stalled and may be abandoned, Mr. Walter said the primary goal of the project was to get residents out of the potential flood zone.

“We moved the people out of harms way,” he said. “At this point, if it were to flood, no houses would be underwater.”

Former Horton Avenue resident Linda Hobson, who became an advocate for the flood victims after the 2010 storm and worked with politicians to get the grant approved, said she’s concerned by the way the street looks now that the homes have been demolished.

“There are still residents living up there and I’m not sure they’re going to want to live there, with what it looks like right now,” she said. “You dug out some houses and it looks like a big void.”

But she said that she is “very content” with the outcome for her and her fellow flood victims, one of whom recently closed on a new house in Center Moriches paid for by the funds she received by selling her damaged house back to the town.

“I am elated that it’s over and that I’m getting my life back together … The most important part of it was done, and that was the part that concerned people and housing,” Ms. Hobson said. “We’ll just have to move on from here.”

psquire@timesreview.com

04/21/13 2:57pm
04/21/2013 2:57 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A burglary suspect was arrested at the Budget Host Inn in RIverside this morning.

Two Riverhead men were arrested after they stole a television during a break-in on Horton Avenue early Sunday and tried to flee police, Riverhead Town police said.

A Horton Avenue resident told police a man kicked down the door to his house about 4 a.m., waking the resident and his mother. The resident struggled with the burglar but was knocked down, giving the intruder time to take a television from the house and run, police said.

The robber and another man drove away from the scene in a Hampton Town Taxi, the resident told police.

Riverhead police officers on patrol found the taxi driving on Flanders Road in Riverside. They pulled over the taxi and arrested the driver, 28-year-old Howard Ferebee Jr. But the passenger, 20-year-old Tremel Kelly, ran from the car and fled the area, leading police on a foot chase to the Budget Host Inn in Riverside.

A police K9 unit eventually found Mr. Kelly hiding in a room at the motel and arrested him.

This was not the first time Mr. Kelly was arrested for running from police. He was arrested last year after he led police on a car chase through Southampton and Riverhead towns, according to a police report.

Last April, Mr. Kelly allegedly stole a car in Southampton then drove north into Riverhead to escape police. Mr. Kelly then fled his vehicle on foot near the Millbrook Gables neighborhood in Riverhead, police said.

Police searched the area for more than five hours, eventually catching Mr. Kelly at 4 p.m, police said.

He was charged with fourth-degree grand larceny, resisting arrest for that incident, police said.

He had also been arrested in 2011 as part of a cocaine, cash counterfeiting and weapons trafficking ring and was allegedly connected with the “Bloods” gang, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Both Mr. Ferebee and Mr. Kelly were charged with second-degree burglary and robbery, police said. Mr. Kelly was also charged with third-degree criminal mischief while Mr. Ferebee faces a fourth-degree criminal facilitation charge.

Both men involved in Sunday’s incident are being held on $50,000 bail. They both requested legal aid and are due back in court Monday.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/26/12 5:38am
10/26/2012 5:38 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris from what used to be a Horton Avenue house Friday afternoon.

Linda Hobson stood near the edge of the street on Horton Avenue Friday afternoon, watching as an excavator lifted piles of debris into the waiting dumpster.

The house that stood on the property a few days before was gone now. The owners had left years ago, driven away after the house was damaged during the torrential rains that flooded the area more than two years ago. The house has been empty since.

Ms. Hobson, who lost her home in the disaster, began nodding her head as chunks of the house’s remains crashed into the dumpster.

“It’s all good,” Ms. Hobson said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Horton Avenue advocate and former resident Linda Hobson speaks at the press conference to announce the demolition of the flood-damaged houses.

Demolitions began Thursday on the Horton Avenue houses damaged by the 2010 floods as part of a nearly $3 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to provide disaster relief to those who lost their homes in the flood.

The grant allows Riverhead Town to buy the properties from the Horton Avenue homeowners at pre-flood values, then demolish the houses once the properties are purchased and use the open space for drainage purposes to prevent future flooding, according to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Twelve houses will be torn down after workers complete asbestos abatement on the property, Cheif Hegermiller said. The last offer to buy back a home will be sent to the last resident remaining on the block this week, he added.

Those who rented homes during the flood were not covered under the grant, nor were any valuables lost during the flood.

Local government officials gathered at the site Friday to thank advocates like Ms. Hobson and praise the efforts made to help those who suffered from the disaster.

County Executive Steve Bellone said that the project was only made possible thanks to the combined efforts of the state, town, county and federal governments.

“Because of all that work, because of all that effort, I think what we have here is an example of a model of how we might be able to get things done in this region,” Mr. Bellone said.

Congressman Tim Bishop also praised the bipartisan work by government leadership.

“This is every level of government cutting across party lines to come together and do the right thing, and we all did the right thing.”

But Mr. Bishop and other officials all gave special praise to residents like Ms. Hobson and Shirley Coverdale for their continued support for the residents of Horton Avenue.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | (L-R) Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Congressman Tim Bishop, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, County Supervisor Steve Bellone and Councilman John Dunleavy at Friday’s conference.

“This probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for sustained and effective citizen advocacy,” Mr. Bishop said.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he was glad the project was able to succeed despite the bumps in the road along the way.

“There were an awful lot of fits and starts with this thing, but luckily people like Linda Hobson just kept hammering and hammering and hammering and sometimes that’s what it takes,” he said.

Ms. Hobson said people can use this example to learn “what we can all do together when we cross party lines and stop focusing on the politics of things and start to get to what’s in the best interest of the community and the people.”

“We did not always agree, but we always were able to come to the table and come to a resolution and that’s how we got to where we are today,” she said. Ms. Hobson, who hasn’t found a new permanent home yet, will be able to buy a new home soon through an affordable housing program, she said.

Horton Avenue residents said they were glad to see the abandoned buildings go, but some expressed sadness that their neighborhood would lose the homes.

Debbie Braunskill, who lives across the street from where the houses will be demolished, said she remembered seeing rowboats up and down the road after the flood.

Ms. Braunskill said she would like to see the land used as a park or expand the playground for the neighborhoods kids.

“Hopefully with this demolition here they’ll be able to make something nice out of it,” she said. “It’s going to be nice. Nice and quiet.”

Kanice Miles, a Horton Avenue resident whose basement was flooded during the 2010 storms, stopped for a moment in her SUV Thursday morning as an excavator tossed pieces of debris into a waiting dumpster.

The neighborhood is changing, she said, and while she was glad to see the eyesores go, she said she’d miss seeing the homes that have sat along Horton Avenue since her childhood.

“It’s all over,” she said, shaking her head. “It’ll never be the same. It’s like family leaving, but I guess it’s what we have to do.”

psquire@timesreview.com

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Workers begin demolitions Thursday morning on Horton Avenue homes damaged in serious flooding more than two years ago.

07/18/12 11:17am
07/18/2012 11:17 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Horton Avenue flood victim turned community activist Linda Hobson (right) and her fellow Horton Avenue flood victims during a press conference on the block last year.

The Riverhead Town Board approved a resolution at its meeting Tuesday night to buy back several Horton Avenue houses that were damaged during a four-day series of storms in 2010 that put much of the low-lying neighborhood underwater, forcing residents from their homes.

Most of the affected homeowners have made agreements to sell their properties to Riverhead Town in exchange for federal grant money, a key step in the process toward assisting those who lost everything during the flood.

“It’s a good feeling to be at the end of this,” said Linda Hobson, a Horton Avenue resident and advocate for the victims of the flood.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will allow the town to pay storm victims nearly $3 million in exchange for their houses.

The grant permits the town to buy the properties from the residents at pre-flood values, then demolish them and use the open space for drainage purposes. Horton Avenue residents will then be able to use the money to buy or rent elsewhere.

In March, the displaced residents and government officials were waiting for an overdue batch of appraisals so the process could continue. At the time, officials said the town and county would have to “redouble [its] efforts” to meet federal deadlines, and Congressman Tim Bishop even wrote a letter urging officials to pick up the pace.

The appraiser, Maurice Perkins, eventually filed the remaining appraisals.

“Things have picked up drastically since then,” Ms. Hobson said. “Everybody’s been on board.”

Ms. Hobson said almost all the homeowners have found other places to move into, making a proposed affordable housing development to be built with help from Suffolk County that residents previously pushed for unnecessary.

“Because there’s only two residents who need dwellings, at this point we don’t feel its a necessity to build the development in Riverhead,” she said.

Ms. Hobson is one of the two residents who have yet to find a new place to live.

Read more about the efforts to assist Horton Avenue residents and what will happen next in this week’s News-Review.

03/29/12 12:00pm
03/29/2012 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Horton Avenue and the homes that line the street flooded in March 2010.

Horton Avenue residents and local government officials have been waiting more than a month for an overdue set of appraisals needed to move them forward in a federal grant process that will aid victims of the devastating nor’easter that put much of the low-lying Riverhead block under water in the spring of 2010.

Appraisals of 10 Horton Avenue properties, being drafted by Maurice N. Perkins Company Inc. of Huntington Station, were due to the town Feb. 14. But only six have been filed with the town so far, town officials said. The delay means the town and county will have to “redouble [its] efforts” to make up for lost time and meet coming federal deadlines, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will pay storm victims nearly $3 million in exchange for their damaged homes.

The grant allows the town to buy the properties from the residents at pre-flood values, demolish them and use the open space for drainage purposes. Horton Avenue residents will then be able to use the money to buy or rent homes elsewhere.

News of the delay prompted Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) to send a letter to town and county officials last Monday, reminding them that the June 30 deadline for the purchase of the damaged homes should not be missed. The purchased homes must then be demolished by Sept. 30, according to the federal guidelines.

“I am concerned that federal funding may be in jeopardy unless these deadlines are met promptly by the Town and County,” Mr. Bishop wrote, adding he would work to speed things up if needed.

But town officials are confident that despite the independent appraiser’s delay, the grant process will be completed in time.

Under the plan, the federal government will pay $2.24 million of the $2.99 million to be spent on buying and demolishing the homes; Suffolk County and the town will split the remaining costs. The remaining $600,000 in grant funds will be used to create a man-made wetland to prevent future flooding in the Horton Avenue area.

The appraisals of the homes, which will be used to determine their pre-flood value, were “more complicated than [the appraiser] originally thought,” said town police chief David Hegermiller, who is overseeing the grant process.

The appraiser, Maurice Perkins, could not be immediately reached for comment on the delay.

The six appraisals that were submitted to the town Monday were sent to the state for approval that same day, Mr. Hegermiller said. He added that he expected the four outstanding appraisals to be submitted “any day now.”

Mr. Walter said the town was “planning to stick to the time frames” and, despite the delay, could still meet the June 30 deadline to complete the purchase of the damaged homes.

He added that the county was still pursuing a subdivision within the town with the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership to provide housing for displaced Horton Avenue residents, many of whom lived in homes that are now inhabitable. The county passed a law last year giving residents who are victims of natural disaster preference in the county’s affordable housing program.

But Mr. Walter said that the town would likely have to move forward with the FEMA grant before the subdivision is complete to meet the federally mandated deadlines in June and September.

“I think that subdivision gets done regardless of our actions in this situation,” he said. “We don’t have time to wait for that subdivision to be done.”

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said he could not discuss the progress of the new housing due to ongoing negotiations between the county and the Long Island Housing Partnership, but said he would make sure the grant appraisals were moved through the state in time for the June 30 deadline.

“As soon as [the town] makes that submission we will absolutely make sure that application is fast-tracked,” Mr. Losquadro said. “None of us wants to have to ask for an extension on that deadline. Everyone is dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s here.”

Linda Hobson, a resident of Horton Avenue and advocate for victims of the flood, said the proposed subdivision would be key for the well-being of those who were forced to move from their homes.

“We can’t expect people to give up their home without having another house to go to,” she said. Residents will meet with LIHP officials this week to discuss the potential subdivision for victims of the flood.

Ms. Hobson also said she’d like to work with the town to accommodate the needs of the residents, including one man living at the end of the damaged street who said he doesn’t want to leave and wishes to use the hazard mitigation money to renovate his home to make it safer against floods.

“Everybody is certainly ready and willing to work together,” she said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape right now.”

Ms. Hobson also noted that in December the residents deferred a lawsuit that was filed against the town and county.

Mr. Hegermiller said that while the delay in the appraisal process was not the first snag in the Horton Avenue saga, he was also confident the town, county and residents would complete the process by the deadline.

“If you look at the whole scheme of things, we were approved [for the FEMA grant] on Oct. 14,” he said. “We didn’t have our kickoff meeting until Nov. 17. We were already 30 days behind the eight ball there. But I’m optimistic that it’ll be on course.”

psquire@timesreview.com

08/03/11 8:32pm
08/03/2011 8:32 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Horton Avenue flood victim turned community activist Linda Hobson (right) and her fellow Horton Avenue flood victims during a press conference on the block Friday.

Porter Trent and his wife, Marie, have lived in their Horton Avenue home for 50 years. Mr. Trent was patching his driveway, with a bucket of tar nearby and trowel in hand, when he heard the news.

Financial help was on the way for the Trents and the few other families who have continued living in their homes after a flood damaged over a dozen houses in the neighborhood last year.

Horton Avenue residents got word Friday that a $3.6 million federal grant will provide relief to the victims of last year’s devastating flooding in the area. The money is coming from the state Office of Emergency Management’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The funds will allow local authorities to purchase 13 affected properties in the low-lying neighborhood at pre-flood market value, demolish them and craft long-term mitigation measures to finally solve the persistent flooding problem there.

For families like the Trents, however, the news was bittersweet, as it meant never having to deal with a flood again, but having to leave the place they’ve called home since the 1960s.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value that can’t be replaced,” said Ms. Trent, 75, who raised seven children in the home. She and her 80-year-old husband have spent the 16 months since the flood repairing the house, cleaning the yard and sanitizing everything that was in their basement as they awaited word from the federal government.

The Trents and their neighbors were denied a separate FEMA grant earlier this year and have since filed a lawsuit against the town and county seeking financial restitution. Now that assistance has arrived, flood victim and community activist Linda Hobson said the neighbors’ attorney would soon be meeting with the town, though she stopped short of saying they would drop the lawsuit.

“Legal proceedings were never our goal,” said Ms. Hobson, who worked closely with Shirley Coverdale and the Long Island Organizing Network throughout the process. She emphasized her gratitude to local elected officials, the media, LION and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, who oversaw the joint agency grant application process.

“It certainly has not been on our accord that we got this far,” she said.

Town officials have said that if they were to receive the federal money, they would seek to return the area to open space or, if Mother Nature insists, wetlands.

Three-quarters of the grant will be paid for through the federal government, but the town and county must provide the remaining 25 percent. The matching $900,000 can come in the form of engineering, administration, permit fees and labor costs, according to deputy supervisor Jill Lewis.

Chief Hegermiller credited the town’s grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano, with helping to secure the funds.

The section of Horton Avenue near the recently built traffic circle has always been prone to flooding because it is at the bottom of a hill, and drainage from all directions empties into it, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said this April, around the anniversary of the flood.

Mr. Walter was out of town for a family emergency this week and could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership reportedly wants to purchase a swath of land off Doctors Path and build 10 affordable homes there, county officials said. About half of those homes would be reserved for Horton Avenue flood victims to purchase if they were interested.

LIHP vice president Diana Weir did not confirm which parcels the organization was pursuing, but said it is searching for a developer. She said the homes would cost less than $300,000.

County officials including Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and County Executive Steve Levy pushed for the affordable housing plan as an alternative in case the federal money fell through.

“We wanted to have a path forward just in case,” Mr. Romaine said.

Both Mr. Romaine and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) acknowledged Ms. Hobson and Ms. Coverdale’s efforts in advocating for the victims.

“This is a statement about the value of persistence,” Mr. Bishop said. “And in light of the discussion that is taking place, this is an example of government working.”

Ms. Hobson’s neighbors seconded that notion.

“She’s been there,” said Ivory Brown, a flood victim whose vacant home was burned down by squatters after the storm. “My guardian angel.”

Although the news brings closure for the residents of Horton Avenue, the future is still uncertain for some, like Ms. Trent.

“I got a den and three bedrooms. I don’t want to move into something smaller than I have, but I don’t like living with a lot of water,” she said during a tour of her home, tears filling her eyes. “Maybe I’ll get excited when [my plans are] official.”

vchinese@timesreview.com