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11/26/14 3:39pm
Police Chief David Hegermiller says he would hope this part of the country is 'ahead of the curve' on race relations between police and minority communities. (Credit: file)

Chief David Hegermiller says he hopes this part of the country is ahead on race relations between police and minority communities. (Credit: file)

In the wake of riots that erupted in Ferguson, Mo. this week after a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who shot and killed a black teenager, Michael Brown, local police chiefs offered their take on the case — and longstanding racial tensions nationwide between police departments and minority communities.

Peaceful protests were also being held at cities across the U.S., though none in this area. (more…)

11/15/14 12:25pm
11/15/2014 12:25 PM
A shooting 'victim' is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning's active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)

A shooting ‘victim’ is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning’s active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)

David Wicks said he couldn’t help but get a bit emotional during Saturday’s active shooter drill in Calverton, where police and ambulance workers simulated a mass shooting inside Riley Avenue Elementary School.

About 70 high school students and other volunteers also participated in the drill, during which two people were “killed,” and several others were dragged from the school or carried out, fake-bloodied and bandaged.

A Suffolk police helicopter also landed in a nearby field.

“It was very real for me; I had chills,” said Mr. Wicks, a Riverhead School District assistant superintendent. “I felt myself getting emotional. The real sobering thing is how much time can pass before help gets here.

“But it made me feel good because our lockdown procedures do help.”

(More photos below) (more…)

07/10/14 4:54pm
07/10/2014 4:54 PM
Kenneth Belcher's mug shot (Credit: Riverhead Police Department)

Kenneth Belcher’s mug shot (Credit: Riverhead Police Department)

Following a news report earlier Thursday, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller confirmed Friday that a 46-year-old Riverhead man accused of beating and robbing a man early Monday is a “possible suspect” in a string of other assaults and robberies in the area. (more…)

05/12/13 7:00am
05/12/2013 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Field Day stage days before the planned event in Calverton.

Five months after Riverhead Town voted to pay $1 million to settle its end of the nine-year-old Field Day lawsuit, a jury has ruled in favor of the remaining defendants in the case.

Court officials said there is currently no order requiring the Field Day concert promoters to pay legal fees to Suffolk County and New York State and that the jury on May 1 simply ruled against Field Day and in favor of the municipalities.

The promoters had sought more than $30 million in damages from the various municipalities that declined to approve the proposed 2003 rock festival in Calverton.

Riverhead Town and its police chief, David Hegermiller, were removed as defendants in the case in December after the town agreed to pay Field Day $1 million as a settlement to end its involvement in the case.

“We didn’t pay the full $1 million,” Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday. “We paid $250,000 and our insurance company paid the rest.”

He said with legal fees going at about $25,000 per week for outside counsel, the town probably would have spent close to $250,000 had it not settled.

Field Day LLC and AEG Live LLC filed the lawsuit in May 2004 against Suffolk County, Riverhead Town, New York State and numerous officials and departments within those municipalities after a proposed three-day music festival at the Enterprise Park at Calverton slated for June 17, 2003 did not receive the necessary approvals.

Field Day, which would have featured popular artists like Radiohead, the Beastie Boys and Beck, never took place at EPCAL because the county refused to provide police protection and the town said it didn’t have enough police officers of its own, which resulted in the county health department denying Field Day a mass gathering permit.

It eventually was moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey as a one-day event on short notice, but had poor attendance due to heavy rains that day.

Town officials never officially approved nor denied the music festival, but instead held a press conference a few days before the concert was scheduled to start and announced that they would not issue the permit.

The lawsuit named Riverhead Town as a defendant and town police chief Chief Hegermiller personally, claiming his request for 150 more officers from the Suffolk County police department was not based on any standards or requirements found in the New York Mass Gatherings Laws.

While the town was removed as a defendant, several town officials still were called to testify in the eight week trial, which began on March 20 and ended on May 1. Among those called to testify were Chief Hegermiller, former Supervisor and current Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, and former town attorney Dawn Thomas. Former town councilman Chris Kent also testified, although Mr. Kent was not in office at the time Field Day was proposed and was representing the concert promoters as a private attorney at the time.

Field Day was one of two large music festivals proposed for EPCAL that summer. The other, Bonnaroo Northeast, also featured big name acts, but it canceled after Field Day failed to gain approvals.

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05/02/13 8:00am
05/02/2013 8:00 AM

After years of weaving through traffic lights on Route 58 on their way to emergencies, Riverhead ambulance volunteers are no longer seeing red.

For the past year, along Riverhead Town’s busiest road, a new system that changes red lights to green as ambulances approach has helped first responders get to alarms faster.

The Opticom system used by the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps employs GPS and radio signals to communicate between ambulances and antennas attached to traffic lights along Route 58, said ambulance chief Joseph Oliver.

As an ambulance approaches a traffic light, the system triggers any red lights along the ambulance’s route to switch to green, Mr. Oliver said. The GPS also registers how fast the ambulance is traveling and whether it’s turning, he said.

The new system has cut down on the ambulance corps’ response times since it was installed in early 2012 and has made it safer for ambulances to respond to calls.

“If we get in an accident, it doesn’t matter how serious the emergency, we’re not going,” Mr. Oliver said.

The antennas are attached to the traffic signals from Tanger Outlets to Ostrander Avenue, he said. Any new lights built on the road will have the system.

The Opticom system is designed to give cars in the opposite lanes a yellow then red light, with enough time for them to stop and let the ambulance through, he said. The corps now has Opticom installed in all its ambulances and fi rst responder vehicles. It paid for two of the transmitters — which cost roughly $2,000 a piece — but the other seven were donated.

Brookhaven Town fire departments and ambulance crews are switching over to the system thanks to grant funding, Mr. Oliver said.

Riverhead Town Police Chief David Hegermiller said the department could benefit from a light-preemption system. Funding has been the biggest hurdle, as the police department would need far more transmitters than the ambulance corps.

“It would be great to have, but currently it is unfunded,” Chief Hegermiller said.

The system doesn’t mean ambulance drivers can be careless, though. The drivers still slow down as they approach a light in case any other cars are running the red light in the other direction, Mr. Oliver said, a problem that occurs far too often to his liking.

He said volunteers see drivers running the red lights “every day, just because people aren’t paying attention. Always pay attention because it could change really quickly.”

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04/08/13 2:11pm
04/08/2013 2:11 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Field Day stage days before the planned event in Calverton.

The trial in the nine-year Field Day lawsuit began last week, and while Riverhead Town is no longer involved in the case as a defendant, it is still well represented, as several current and former town officials have been subpoenaed to testify either by Suffolk County or by the concert promoters.

Field Day LLC and AEG Live LLC filed the lawsuit in May of 2004 against Suffolk County, Riverhead Town, New York State and various officials from those entities in 2004 after a proposed two-day music festival at the Enterprise Park at Calverton failed to gain the necessary approvals to move forward.

The county declined to issue a special gathering permit for the concert after the Riverhead Town police said they would not have enough officers to patrol it.

The concert, originally scheduled for July 2003, was to have featured well-known acts like Beck, the Beastie Boys and Radiohead, and was eventually moved to Giants Stadium as a one-day event, although it took place during a torrential rain storm.

Field Day initially sought $30 million in damages.

A $1 million settlement with Riverhead Town in December knocked the town off the defendant list, although the lawsuit against Suffolk County continues to move forward.

Current town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, who was town supervisor at the time, has already been called to testify in the case, as has former town attorney Dawn Thomas and police chief David Hegermiller.

In addition to those who already testified, a list of potential county witnesses published on Feb. 26 includes other former town officials such as former town council members Ed Densieski, Barbara Blass, and Rose Sanders, former town fire marshal Bruce Johnson, and Joey MacLellan, a  former executive assistant to the supervisor.

12/03/12 8:00am
12/03/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town’s animal control building on Youngs Avenue.

A little over a month ago, the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter was staffed by a full-time animal control officer, a part-time ACO, and a full-time and part-time kennel assistant.

But after the head of the shelter was mauled by a pit bull in October and two others resigned this past weekend, only a full-time kennel assistant remains working at the shelter as of Monday morning.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis earlier this year with a dog from the Riverhead Town shelter.

Most town officials said they recognize the issues at the shelter and are working to quickly hire replacements to fill the vacant positions.

But some shelter volunteers and residents say the situation there is troubling, citing an incident where dogs were left alone in the kennel for 24 hours Thanksgiving night into the next day.

Sunday was the last day at work for part-time animal control officer Maureen Schneider, who has worked at the shelter for nearly two years. She left Riverhead Town Animal Shelter to accept a position as the head of Brookhaven’s animal shelter, a much larger operation, she said.

“I cried all the way here this morning, because I’m leaving my babies,” Ms. Schneider said Sunday afternoon.

Her sudden resignation is the second loss to the shelter in the past few days after a part-time kennel attendant quit the job Saturday. The departures come as the shelter is already short-staffed while head animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis recovers from a mauling in late October.

On Oct. 26, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis was walking a pit bull at the shelter about 3 p.m. when the dog attacked her, biting her face and latching onto her hip, Ms. Schneider said.

Ms. Schneider was working at the time of the attack and used a snare pole to pull the dog off Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis, who is on medical leave while she recovers. Town officials said she will be out on leave for at least the next two weeks.

The two resignations also happened little more than a week after the 14 dogs at the shelter were left in the kennel for 24 hours, volunteers and town officials said.

Ms. Schneider said she came in at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving and worked at the shelter until 1 p.m., but because of short-staffing due to Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis’ injury, no one was able to come to the shelter to walk, feed or care for the dogs until Ms. Schneider’s next shift at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

Ms. Schneider said she was sorry to leave the shelter for the Brookhaven job, though she was confident the town would fill the open positions at the shelter to prevent what happened from occurring again.

Town Councilman Jim Wooten, who serves as the liaison for the Town Board on animal control issues, said he was aware of the incident at the animal shelter over Thanksgiving, and said the situation was being handled.

He also denied rumors that two dogs were being euthanized at the shelter due to short-staffing. Mr. Wooten said the two dogs were deemed dangerous by both shelter workers and a veterinarian, as per town policy, and the dogs were planned to be put down long before the sudden resignations.

Though Mr. Wooten, Ms. Schneider and several volunteers at the shelter all confirmed dogs had been left in their kennels unsupervised two weeks ago, Police Chief David Hegermiller, who oversees the shelter, denied there had been a problem at the shelter over Thanksgiving, saying the dogs were cared for each day.

“Obviously, we haven’t let the dogs down yet and we’re not going to let the dogs down in the future,” Mr. Hegermiller said. “As far as I’m concerned, nothing happened.”

When asked whether the town was looking to hire part-time kennel attendants to help at the shelter during Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis’ absence, Mr. Hegermiller said: “I mean, obviously that makes sense,” adding the town was already in the process of looking for new hires.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Mr. Wooten said the town has put out an advertisement for part-time kennel attendants and has received some replies already. Interviews will be conducted Monday, and the town could hire new kennel attendants as early as Tuesday, he said.

But Mr. Wooten argued that the town should also take more “radical” steps now that they are in the current situation. He advocated for privatizing the shelter, an idea discussed last year that would see the North Fork Animal Welfare League take over control of the shelter from the town’s police department.

But contract talks stalled, and town officials could not provide an update on the negotiations.

“I think now’s the time to hire a [shelter] director,” Mr. Wooten said. “We should strike while the iron is hot.”

Meanwhile, volunteers said the shelter’s dogs are paying the price for the town’s indecision.

“It’s just beyond despicable … and the ones who are suffering are the animals,” said Linda Mosca, a volunteer who works with the Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, a Riverhead-based advocacy group that has clashed with town leaders for years over the animal shelter.

“Nothing changes because the town simply doesn’t care,” she said. “This has been going on, nobody stays, everybody leaves and nobody cares.”

Vince Taldone, who volunteers at the shelter, was not so quick to blame a specific person in town government. Instead, he said that while he believes Mr. Hegermiller shares some of the fault for the shelter’s shortcomings, the police chief is ultimately bound by the budget the Town Board sets.

“I don’t even know who to blame,” Mr. Taldone said.

Mr. Taldone said he is concerned that the full-time kennel attendant who remains at the shelter now will be overwhelmed with responsibilities and will not be able to care for the dogs adequately in the wake of the most recent resignations.

“How is [the attendant] going to do everything?” he asked. “If she gets two calls in the office, she’s stuck.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a typo that incorrectly stated the remaining employee at the shelter was a part-time kennel attendant. The worker is a full-time employee.