This Week in Riverhead History: Arsonist arrested, soldier dies

Raymond Dennis Smith was convicted of arson  and murder following Riverhead's 'deadliest fire.' He was arrested 20 years ago this week.
Raymond Dennis Smith was convicted of arson and murder following Riverhead’s ‘deadliest fire.’ He was arrested 20 years ago this week.

The following stories from our Riverhead archives were published between 20 and 100 years ago this week: 

20 years ago this week 

• Arsonist arrested following Riverhead’s ‘deadliest blaze’

The arsonist in a Harrison Avenue apartment building fire that killed five children was arrested on July 28, 1994.

The blaze, which occurred one month before the arrest, was dubbed the “worst fire in Riverhead history,” according to an article in the June 30, 1994 issue of the Riverhead News-Review.

Raymond Dennis Smith poured a cup of gasoline in the building’s only stairwell and lit the blaze in an attempt to get his estranged wife back, police said at the time of his arrest on July 28, 1994. His wife had been staying at a friend’s apartment and Mr. Smith was hoping she’d return to him if she had nowhere else to live, police said.

The friend’s three children and two children living in other apartments were killed in the fire. The victims were between the ages of six months and 12 years.

Mr. Smith was convicted of murder and arson charges, and is currently serving a 25-years-to-life sentence at a prison in upstate New York. He will be eligible for parole in 2019.

• Janoski announces retirement plans

After suffering his fifth heart attack in seven months, Riverhead Town Supervisor Joe Janoski announced from his hospital bed on July 24, 1994 that he would be retiring. He remained in office until Jan. 15, 1995 and signed the state Pine Barrens Act, which needed town approval, as one of his last acts as supervisor.

Mr. Janoski, who had served seven full two-year terms in office, was elected to an eighth weeks before suffering the first of the heart attacks on Christmas Eve 1993.  He died in 2012 at the age of 68.

• Riverhead priest drowns off Shelter Island

A beloved Riverhead priest drowned in a boating accident off Dering Point on Shelter Island July 26, 1994.

Reverend John Harris, 65, was not wearing a life jacket when he fell overboard trying to raise the sale on his 19-foot sailboat, his wife said.

He had served as an interim rector at Grace Episcopal Church in Riverhead for two years before his death.

50 years ago this week

• Col. Gabreski takes over at Air Force base

Col. Frances S. Gabreski, then the “leading surviving fire ace” with a distinguished record in World War II and the Korean conflict was appointed wing commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at the Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton in July 1964.

A thunderbolt pilot in the European campaign, he was credited with 31 1/2 enemy aircraft and took out six more in Korea.

Today the airport at the base in Westhampton is named for him.

75 years ago this week

• New steeple dedicated at Old Steeple Church

It may be called Old Steeple Community Church, but what some folks might not realize is that’s actually the new steeple on top of the Aquebogue house of worship. It was dedicated 75 years ago this week at a service on July 30, 1939.

The previous steeple was destroyed during the “Long Island Express” hurricane of 1938. Reverend Herbert B. Story led the service at the church, which was filled to capacity.

100 years ago this week

• Riverhead soldier killed in the Philippines

A Riverhead woman was notified by the U.S. War Department that her son, a soldier, was killed in the Philippines on July 22, 1914.

Mary Panewich was informed that her son Paul, 19, had been killed but “no particulars” were given at the time.