Featured Story

Riverhead guidance director charged with aggravated DWI

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead guidance director Charles Gassar explains the benefits of new college application software to the school board Tuesday.

The director of Riverhead School District’s guidance department was arrested on an aggravated driving while intoxicated charge late last month, according to Riverhead police and justice court records.

Charles Gassar, 50, of Baiting Hollow, was charged with misdemeanor aggravated DWI and a traffic infraction for failing to stay in his lane following a traffic stop at 6:54 p.m. on Edgar Avenue in Aquebogue on Saturday, July 25, according to court records.

A blood test taken revealed Mr. Gassar’s blood-alcohol content was .19 percent, more than twice the legal limit, according to court records.

Mr. Gassar, who has headed the district’s guidance department since the fall of 2008, had a court appearance on the charges on Monday, Aug. 3, and is due back in court on Sept. 14, according to court records.

Mr. Gassar has no prior DWIs, court records indicate. Under state law, any DWI arrest with a BAC over .18 percent is considered aggravated DWI.

Mr. Gassar came to Riverhead School District from the Rockville Centre district, where he was an assistant principal and had seven years experience in guidance.

In an email sent Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Carney stated, “The district is notified whenever an employee is arrested.” However she did not comment further because the issue is a personnel matter.

Mr. Gassar has yet to respond to an email seeking comment. Mr. Gassar’s attorney, Christopher Cassar, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The arrest didn’t appear in The News-Review’s police blotter for that week because the Riverhead Police Department press report provided to reporters lists the arrest only as “incident auto” and doesn’t include any other details.

Riverhead police no longer provide a list of all arrests to reporters.

The arrest marks the latest drunk driving arrest of a Riverhead school employee in recent years.

In 2008, then-Riverhead High School Principal David Zimbler was arrested by Suffolk County Police for DWI in Brentwood, and later pleaded down to a lower charge of driving while ability impaired. His drivers license was suspended for 90 days.

Under state law, DWI is a misdemeanor, while DWAI is only considered a traffic infraction.

In Mr. Zimbler’s case, the Riverhead Board of Education delayed his tenure by a year because of the arrest. The school board also made him participate in an employee assistance program and community service.

Four years later, Phillips Avenue elementary school teacher Joe Johnson was arrested on weapons and drunken driving charges. It was his second DWI arrest. Though the weapons charge was later dismissed by prosecutors due to an illegal police search, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to three years probation and had his license suspended for six months.

Mr. Johnson — a tenured teacher who had taught fourth grade — was reassigned to his home following the April 2012 arrest and was later fired after he pleaded guilty. He sued the district in state court to get his job back, but the request was denied.

Court records state that Ms. Carney, as well as Philips Avenue principal Debra Rodgers, had reservations about placing Mr. Johnson back in the classroom due to the gun charge.

Mr. Johnson has a separate lawsuit pending in federal court against the district, alleging he was singled out for punishment after his drunken driving conviction while another administrators with DWI convictions was not fired.

[email protected]

Photo Caption: Mr. Gassar speaks at a Riverhead school board meeting in 2012. (Credit: Paul Squire)