07/26/13 12:00pm
07/26/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Hollique Smith Johnson, 13, pulled his 12-year-old friend who couldn’t swim out of Peconic River July 14.

Hollique Smith Johnson walked through the front door of his Riverhead home July 14, his shirt and pants sagging and dripping wet. His mother, Angel Johnson, took one look at her son and said, “Eww! You stink!”

Moments earlier, Hollique — a 6-foot-3 13-year-old, had jumped into the Peconic River in downtown Riverhead to rescue a 12-year-old friend who had fallen into the water.

“He said, ‘Ma, I got to get in the shower; I had to jump in the Peconic,’ ” Ms. Johnson recalled Tuesday, standing on the riverfront dock where the incident occurred.

A wave of mixed emotions came over Ms. Johnson, from fear of what could have happened to relief that her son had the calmness under pressure to do what none of the other boys in the group could: jump in the water and swim.

Hollique had no choice but to learn how to swim at an early age.

When he was 2 years old, he fell out of his mother’s arms after she slipped on baby oil alongside a wave pool at Splish Splash. Hollique splashed into the water and instinctively began to dog-paddle.

“He’s been swimming like a fish ever since,” said Ms. Johnson, who admitted that she swims more “like a rock.”

Two weeks ago Hollique and a few friends were walking along the Peconic River at high tide when Hollique thought about jumping down onto a floating dock that was several feet away from the main dock. A few of the boys were ready to follow.

Jared Crump, who unlike Hollique is an average-sized kid for his age, stumbled at the edge of the dock and tumbled down into the water.

Unable to swim, Jared began to panic. Though he was just a few feet from safety, Jared was still far enough away that the other boys couldn’t just reach out to grab him. Jared couldn’t reach the dock and struggled to stay afloat. His head bobbed under the water twice.

Among the group, only Hollique could swim.

Some people nearby, thinking the boys were goofing around, took no notice of the potentially tragic turn of events.

“I saw his head go under a few times,” Hollique said. “He was drowning. So I saved him.”

He didn’t think twice about jumping in, not even taking the time to pull his cell phone out of his pocket.

“[Jared] was just crying, saying, ‘Thank you,’ ” Hollique said.

For the next few days, Jared didn’t want to leave Hollique’s side.

“Now I can’t get rid of the kid,” Ms. Johnson joked.

That Hollique was the only swimmer in the group is not all that uncommon. Drowning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury or death, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And between 2005 and 2009, the fatal unintentional drowning rate was significantly higher for African Americans than for whites across all ages, the report stated. The disparity, according to the report, is highest among children between 5 and 14, with the rate for African American children nearly three times than that for white children.

Hollique, an honor student who is heading into eighth grade, has always loved the water. He surfs out in Montauk, where the waves tempt some of the biggest daredevils in the world. He’s thought about becoming a lifeguard.

In the days following the near drowning, he offered to help teach some of his friends how to swim.

Hollique’s sister Hollie, 28, is married to a man in the Coast Guard and they live in Miami. When Hollique visits, his brother-in-law shows him what it’s like to train in the water.

“He makes him learn how to swim and struggle under water,” Ms. Johnson said.

Away from the water, Hollique plays basketball, football and lacrosse. At 6-3 and still growing, he could become a familiar face on the Riverhead athletic fields in years to come.

“He has a lot of mentors, because I’m a single mom,” Ms. Johnson said. “I thank them all for helping me bring him up as a good young man.”

joew@timesreview.com

06/17/13 1:27pm
06/17/2013 1:27 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | DEC officers hunting for the alligator Friday.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | DEC officers hunting for the alligator Friday.

The alligator that’s been living in the Peconic River and eluded capture for more than a week was located and euthanized Sunday in Calverton.

The gator was killed about 25 yards down river from the state Department of Environmental Conservation kayak and canoe launch site off Connecticut Avenue.

The gator was killed by a single shot fired by a DEC conservation officer, a DEC spokesman said.

“Dart guns do not work on cold-blooded creatures,” said the spokesman, Bill Fonda.

Officers had been spotting and trying to capture the 3-foot long alligator alive for about a week near the boat ramp, Mr. Fonda said.

“As an option of last resort, the alligator was euthanized on Sunday in the interest of public safety,” he said. “Tranquilizing the alligator was not an option as the animal could still have evaded capture and returned to the water, continuing to pose a public safety threat. DEC has re-opened the canoe site.”

The boat ramp had been closed to the public during the search.

A DEC officer at the scene Friday said they hoped to catch the gator alive, if possible, but that proved too dangerous, Mr. Fonda said.

“DEC officers and staff used baited hooks, nets and catch poles in an attempt to capture the animal,” Mr. Fonda said.. “All these attempts proved futile.

Officials have said the gator was probably a pet that someone turned loose, and they have stressed owning an alligator is illegal in New York State.

The DEC in April found four other small alligators in the same area of the Peconic River boat ramp, and capture them alive.

tgannon@timesreview.com

DEC COURTESY PHOTO | These four gators were captured in the Peconic River Friday morning. A Manorville residents spotted the reptiles and contacted the DEC.

DEC COURTESY PHOTO | These four gators were captured in the Peconic River in April.

06/14/13 5:29pm
06/14/2013 5:29 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | DEC officer Don Damrath shows some DEC employees where he thinks the gator may be.

An elusive alligator remained on the loose Friday in Calverton as State Environmental Conservation Officers converged on the area to attempt to bait the gator.

Spotted in the Peconic River near the state boat ramp on Connecticut Avenue, the gator is estimated to be about 3 1/2 to 4 feet long, officer Donald Damrath said.

It’s the second time in less than two months a gator has been spotted in the area. Four baby gators were found in the same spot in mid-April.

Mr. Damrath spotted the gator Wednesday and another man photographed it earlier in the week. Officer Kaitlyn Grady and Lt. Frank Carbone assisted Friday in trying to lure in the gator near the ramp where a trail leading to it has been closed to the public since Wednesday. Officials believe the gator is likely still near the boat ramp.

Mr. Damrath said the gator may be dormant. Gators become dormant when temperatures reach 55 degrees and stop feeding when the temperature is about 70 degrees, he said.

The air temperature was near 70 degrees Friday but the water temperature was unknown. The gators will stay on land if it is warmer than the water, Mr. Damrath said.

The officers put some chicken down by the ramp  in an attempt to bait the gator. Mr. Damrath said the gator was likely domestic, so the trap might not work.

It’s possible that this gator was owned by the same person that owned the other four, he said.

The goal is to catch it alive if possible, he said, but cautioned, “It’s a dangerous animal.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The hunt for the gator continues Friday.

05/28/13 2:00pm
05/28/2013 2:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Peconic River boardwalk.

A 22-year-old man visiting from North Carolina was rescued from the Peconic River by Riverhead Police and Riverhead Fire Department volunteers Monday night, police said.

Police received a 911 call about 9:30 p.m. that a man had fallen into the Peconic River by Peconic Avenue, according to a report.

The man, identified as Josh Walker, was found to be highly intoxicated, and was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center by ambulance for injuries he sustained from the fall, police said.

04/19/13 4:01pm
04/19/2013 4:01 PM
DEC COURTESY PHOTO | These four gators were captured in the Peconic River Friday morning. A Manorville residents spotted the reptiles and contacted the DEC.

DEC COURTESY PHOTO | These four gators were captured in the Peconic River Friday morning. A Manorville residents spotted the reptiles and contacted the DEC.

Four alligators were captured from the Peconic River in Calverton by state conservation officers Friday morning, officials said.

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials said in a press release the reptiles — ranging 2- to 4-feet-long — were spotted by Frank Naase about 8 a.m. near a dock at the Connecticut Avenue canoe launch.

The Manorville resident, who officials said frequents the dock after his morning cup of coffee, immediately contacted the DEC after noticing one of the alligators floating by.

The alligators were lethargic due to the cold water they had been exposed to, and were transferred to DEC’s regional headquarters in Stony Brook and will ultimately be sent to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, officials said.

Lt. Dallas Bengel, left, and ECO Mark Simmons caught these gators Friday morning.

Lt. Dallas Bengel, left, and ECO Mark Simmons caught these gators Friday morning.

After catching a nearly 2-foot-long alligator with a catch pole, Lt. Dallas Bengel and Environmental Conservation Officer Mark Simmons observed three more alligators in the water and secured each of the animals with tape around their jaws, officials said.

Alligators are illegal to own as pets in New York. People planning to use them for exhibition, research or educational purposes are require to obtain a DEC permit, officials said.

Friday’s incident occurred a week prior to Long Island’s first illegal reptile and amphibian amnesty day.

The DEC has partnered with the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow for a “one-time only amnesty program,” where people can anonymously bring their illegal or unpermitted reptiles and amphibians without fear of prosecution.

Species that do not require permits, or are not threatened or endangered will not be accepted.

DEC Regional Director Peter Scully said in a press release he hopes residents will take advantage of the program.

“Alligators released into Long Island waters have become an all too common occurrence in recent years,” Mr. Scully said. “Unfortunately, individuals who attain these animals often find themselves incapable of caring for them as they grow, and they ultimately release them into the waters of Long Island where they are unable to survive and may pose a risk to recreationalists.”

The program will take place at Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown, on April 27 from noon to 4 p.m.

To report any environmental crime, contact DEC’s hotline at 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332) or Dispatch number at (631) 444-0250.

Officials said calls will be kept confidential.

jennifer@timesreview.com

03/06/13 6:30pm
03/06/2013 6:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Water was already overflowing into the road in downtown Riverhead Wednesday night at around 5:30 p.m.

Water from the Peconic River began to overflow its bank at around 5 p.m. Wednesday as the edge of a Nor’easter began to hit the area.

Officer Christopher James was monitoring the situation at 5:30 p.m. from his patrol car parked in the empty parking lot behind the former Swezey’s Department store in downtown Riverhead. He said that he noticed cars were having some difficulty going through the water in the roadway.

He noted that high tide in the area is at 8 p.m. and the town will probably shut the road down at 6 p.m.

The storm, which could dump as much as seven inches of snow, is expected to linger into Friday before clear skies return Saturday. Original forecasts called for as much as 10 inches, but the National Weather Service downgraded that number late Wednesday.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Water from the Peconic River began rising above the docks Wednesday night.

11/28/12 12:26pm
11/28/2012 12:26 PM
GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Southampton police divers search the Peconic River.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Southampton police divers search the Peconic River.

Southampton police divers are searching the Peconic River for a handgun believed to used in a recent rash of armed robberies that have spanned the North Fork.

Police also have three men in custody whom they believe are responsible for at least four separate stickups in Riverside, Riverhead and Mattituck over the last month, said Southampton police Sgt. Lewis Scott, who was on the scene Wednesday morning.

Members of the Southampton Town Dive Recovery Unit started scouring the river behind McDonald’s in Riverside about 10:30 a.m. after receiving information that the handgun used in the robberies was dumped in the water, Sgt. Scott said.

Even if police recover a gun, they will keep searching the river bottom until they’re confident every inch had been covered, he added.

Police have not yet released the names of the men in custody.

gvolpe@timesreview.com

09/30/12 12:00pm
09/30/2012 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Wayne and Diane Dedicke of Calverton arrived Saturday on their boat to secure a spot on the town dock for the Riverhead Country Fair.

Wayne and Diane Dedicke of Calverton docked their 37-foot-long cabin cruiser along the Peconic Riverfront Saturday morning, making sure they were first in line for next week’s Riverhead Country Fair.

Just as they have for the past 15 years, the Dedicke’s picked a spot in the center of the town dock for a prime viewing spot of all the fair exhibits and entertainment.

Mr. Dedicke will still work all week at Brookhaven National Laboratory, but he and his wife will spend their nights on the boat downtown, a mini-staycation for them and their dogs — samoyeds Breeze, 6, and Molly, 11. Mr. Dedicke said the town sends a recreation department employee to collect the dockage fee of $25 per day.

The 37th annual Riverhead Country Fair takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Sunday, Oct. 7. The fair will feature live entertainment, vendors, farm animals, homemaking and needlecraft competitions, food and local produce, carnival rides and more. Admission is free.

Visit riverheadcountryfair.com for more information.