Casa Rica stabbing renews call to shut down bar

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTOA stabbing at Casa Rica Restaurant and Sports Bar Tuesday morning has renewed a call to close the establishment.

A 28-year-old Flanders man was arrested early Tuesday for allegedly stabbing an acquaintance multiple times during a fight that broke out inside the bathroom at Casa Rica Restaurant and Sports Bar in downtown Riverhead, authorities said.

The second knife attack in as many years at the troubled establishment has renewed calls to have Casa Rica shut down. When the stabbing victim stumbled outside the East Main Street bar and was found by Riverhead police about 2 a.m. Tuesday, it marked the fifth time officers had been called there in a 72-hour period.

The alleged stabber, Elmer Miranda-Depaz, is being held at the Suffolk County jail on $100,000 bail. He appeared before Riverhead Town Justice Richard Ehlers Tuesday morning wearing a white paper jumpsuit and yellow paper coverings on his feet. Riverhead Police Detective Sergeant Robert Loggia said investigators had taken Mr. Miranda-Depaz’ clothes for evidence.

At the hearing, a lawyer representing Mr. Miranda-Depaz requested lower bail, explaining that his client worked construction jobs and would not have the money. Mr. Miranda-Depaz is due back in court Friday.

Meanwhile, the victim, identified as 35-year-old Hugo Alberto, was listed in critical condition at Stony Brook University Medical Center Tuesday. Prosecutors said he lost a substantial amount of blood during the fight and had undergone surgery Tuesday morning.

Police said the two men got into an argument during which Mr. Miranda-Depaz pulled out an eight-inch knife and stabbed Mr. Alberto several times in the upper torso. Police could not say how many times Mr. Alberto was stabbed. Det. Sgt. Loggia said police did not know what sparked the fight because they had not yet spoken to the victim.

After the stabbing, police said, witnesses followed Mr. Miranda-Depaz out of the bar and pointed him out to police.

Mr. Alberto was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and then transferred to Stony Brook due to the severity of his wounds.

A cleaning crew was spotted outside the bar hours later as other businesses along East Main Street were beginning to open for business Tuesday, said Raymond Pickersgill, president of the Riverhead Business Improvement District and owner of the neighboring Robert James Salon and Spa.

Mr. Pickersgill said he is fed up with the bar and the recurrent crime it brings downtown.

“I would love to see them move,” he said. “It’s not right for here. It just brings a bad element.” In addition to the stabbing, Riverhead Police responded to Casa Rica several other times over the weekend.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter vowed in Town Hall Tuesday to pressure the New York State Liquor Authority to shut down the establishment, which keeps late hours and caters to a Latino clientele.

In a radio interview Tuesday on WRIV 1390 AM, Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said police have been called to the bar about 70 times since it opened less than two years ago.

Mr. Walter told the News-Review he has directed town attorneys to investigate the possibility of requiring Riverhead restaurants that also have liquor licenses to obtain a special permit from the town. He said that way the town can revoke the permit and shut down a business without having to consult the State Liquor Authority.

Mr. Alberto was the second person critically injured in a knifing at Casa Rica in as many years. In July 2009, a 38-year-old Riverhead man attacked someone with a machete in a 3 a.m. fight that spilled off the bar’s rear deck and into the parking lot. The victim, also a Flanders man, suffered deep wounds to his arm and neck.

This August, the State Liquor Authority raided Casa Rica and charged owner Carlos Moreno-Bonilla for not conforming to government regulations regarding security guards and also for failing to adhere to building codes and fire regulations.

In June, Mr. Moreno-Bonilla was charged with employing unlicensed security guards.

In regard to those charges, the State Liquor Authority has scheduled a hearing in connection with proceedings to suspend, cancel or revoke Casa Rica’s liquor license. That hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 11:30 a.m. in the Nassau County Supreme Court building on 100 Supreme Court Driving in Mineola.

The stabbing early Tuesday actually marked the fifth time police had been called to the bar since Saturday, when Hugo Vargas, 21, of Riverhead was arrested there on robbery charges. Riverhead Police were called there four times on Sunday. During those visits they charged one man with public urination.

The owner of the building, East Hampton developer Richard Gherardi, could not be reached for comment.

[email protected]

This post was originally published Oct. 20, 2010

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.