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Long Island

Revisit the 25 top Long Island stories of 2018

These are some of the stories that defined Long Island in 2018.

Hempstead school district makes headway

From left, special adviser Jack Bierwirth and Hempstead
Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead school district has many hurdles to clear though some operations are closer to being “normal” after a year of intensive work, state-appointed adviser Jack Bierwirth said to the chronically troubled district in his annual review. The year began with the school board voting to place superintendent Shimon Waronker on administrative leave. Waronker, who had posted an “open letter” accusing the board majority of undermining his efforts to improve the district the weekend before the vote, sued the school board for reinstatement. The school district and its board of education detailed 41 charges against Waronker, including bid-rigging, conflict of interest and sham hiring, which the Nassau County district attorney’s office is reviewing.

In May, school board president Maribel Touré and vice president Gwendolyn Jackson, who make up a minority bloc on the board, were defeated by Carmen Ayala and Patricia Spleen.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia visited the district twice in 2018; first in January, when she urged the implementation of the state-appointed adviser’s recommendations, and again in December, when she lauded the district’s work as “noteworthy.”

Five killed in Ridge crash

Scene of serious crash on Middle Country Road
Credit: LiHotShots

Five people were killed on Valentine’s Day when a speeding car that had been reported stolen struck another, triggering a four-vehicle crash in which one victim was ejected and a car was engulfed in flames, police said. Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini called it “one of the worst motor vehicle crashes in Suffolk County’s history.”

Four of the victims were in the vehicle that caught fire after being struck. They were Jacquelyn McCoy, 55; her daughter, Mary Alice Booker, 36; her son, Anthony McCoy, 33; and his girlfriend, Tameka Foster, 42. The fifth victim, Lonidell Skinner, 19, of Bellport, was ejected from the stolen vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

Jamel Turner, 23, of Bellport, the driver of the stolen vehicle, was charged with third-degree criminal possession of stolen property and false personation. Suffolk prosecutors in April announced upgraded charges, including five counts each of second-degree murder, aggravated-vehicular homicide, manslaughter, first-degree assault, and unlawful fleeing from police.

Pathway to Power

Portrait of Gary Melius on the stairs at
Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

A seven-part Newsday investigative series published in February explored Long Island’s political system through the life of Gary Melius, pictured above, who became one of the Island’s biggest political power brokers over the last half-century. Melius rose from a West Hempstead street tough who had been arrested five times by the age of 27 to become the owner of Oheka Castle, which became Long Island’s unofficial political clubhouse under his watch.

At its height, Oheka Castle was a place of celebrity weddings and political fundraisers. At its low point, Melius was nearly assassinated in its rear parking lot in what remains an unsolved crime. A lot has changed since then, but an examination of Melius’ career shows the staying power of Long Island’s entrenched and lucrative political system.

Nassau property tax reassessment

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signs an executive
Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, seen above with County Assessor David Moog, in February said she expected to complete a full reassessment of all properties in the county by the time a new tentative tax roll is issued on Jan. 1, 2019. The reassessment came following a 2017 Newsday investigation that revealed how Nassau County’s sweeping tax overhaul had in effect created two different property assessment systems — separate and unequal — and a $1.7 billion shift in tax burden overwhelmingly onto lower-valued homes and office buildings.

Curran signed an executive order in September sharply reducing the level of assessment for 386,000 residential properties. A county budget analyst forecast 200,000 Nassau homeowners would see an increase in property taxes because of the county reassessment, while 185,000 would get decreases.

The county has received criticism in its efforts to inform property owners of changes throughout the process, including redoing 20,000 assessment disclosure notices mailed to property owners because it mistakenly increased assessments of those properties by more than the 6 percent allowed by state law and correcting 60,000 tax-impact notices posted on the county website because the assessor used preliminary, rather than final values when estimating reassessments’ effects on property tax bills. Moog said in December he was adjusting the values on more than 40,000 of the county’s 386,000 residential properties after hearing from thousands of homeowners about errors in their new property tax assessments

More coverage: See impact of tax changes in Nassau by district

Nassau, Suffolk name police commissioners

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, left, at
Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.; Randee Daddona

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties confirmed new police commissioners in 2018. The Nassau County Legislature unanimously confirmed Patrick Ryder, left, in February amid allegations that he sexually harassed a civilian female employee. Ryder said the claims were “baseless.” A 32-year veteran of the county police force, Ryder had been in an acting capacity since former Commissioner Thomas Krumpter’s retirement in 2017. He became the first permanent head of the department since 2013.

In April, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously confirmed Geraldine Hart, the former head of the FBI’s Long Island office, as the first female commissioner in the county police department’s 58-year history. She replaced John Barry, who had served as acting commissioner since January.

State recognizes LI schools' academic achievements

Harborfields High School in Greenlawn is shown on
Credit: Ian J. Stark

The state Education Department in February recognized 24 Long Island schools as “Reward Schools” for demonstrating high academic achievement. Earning the distinction requires fulfillment of a combination of benchmarks, including scoring in the top 20 percent statewide in English Language Arts and math testing for the most recent two school years; posting significant gains in those exam scores in the 2016-17 academic year; and not having large achievement gaps among students in separate accountability subgroups, such as students from low-income families. The Long Island schools — 16 in Nassau and eight in Suffolk — all named as “high-performing” schools, were among 155 recognized statewide.

Bishop McGann-Mercy High School closes

McGann Mercy High School at 1225 Ostrander Avenue
Credit: Peter Dilauro

The Diocese of Rockville Centre closed Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead after the 2017-18 school year. Olivia Valle, Bishop McGann’s 2018 valedictorian, recalled “people were crying in the hallways” following the announcement. Officials cited low enrollment in making the decision; only 55 incoming freshmen were registered for the following year. The school celebrated its first graduating class in 1956. 

More coverage: After school closes, teens find new homecoming

Four nor'easters hit LI in March

East Hampton School District schools are closed today
Credit: Gordon M. Grant

With March comes the start of spring each year, but this March, winter wasn’t done just yet. Long Island got hit by four nor’easters in a span of just over two weeks: on March 2, 7, 13 and 21-22. The last storm was the strongest of the four, dropping up to 20 inches of snow in some areas and leading to the deaths of two Long Islanders, authorities said. 

More coverage: Snow totals map | Snow photos from around LI

2 LI students named Regeneron competition finalists

(L-R) Chiu Fan Bowen Lo, "Leo", 18, and
Credit: Evelyn Hockstein

In March, Jericho High School seniors Leo Lo, left, and Andrew Fang, right, were awarded $25,000 each as two of the 40 finalists of the Regeneron Science and Talent Search for their potential as leaders in the world of science and their research projects — Lo for improving microscopes used in designing nanoscale materials and Fang for treating Parkinson’s and.

In January, Lo and Fang were among 46 Long Island high school students who were named Regeneron scholars; the equivalent of semifinalists in the competition.

LI service members killed in Iraq helicopter crash

Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing Technical Sergeant
Credit: Department of Defense

Three members of the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard in Westhampton Beach were among seven service members killed in March when a U.S. helicopter crashed in western Iraq, leaving no survivors. The victims included, from left, Dashan Briggs of Port Jefferson Station, a former All Division football star at Riverhead High School, two members of the FDNY — Lt. Christopher Raguso of Commack and Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis of Long Island City — and Capt. Andreas B. O’Keeffe of Center Moriches, a full-time technician. 

More coverage: LI airmen killed in Iraq recalled by parents

Spota and McPartland to face trial in Burke case

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, left,
Credit: Steve Pfost; John Paraskevas

A federal judge in April set a trial date of March 18, 2019, for former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, left, and a former key aide, Christopher McPartland, right, who are charged with taking part in a cover-up of an assault by former Suffolk police Chief James Burke.

Papers filed by federal prosecutors in December said that Spota and McPartland plotted to obstruct justice in Burke’s case. In 2015, Spota demanded a Suffolk police officer find out which officer was an informant against Burke, telling the officer that anyone feeding information to federal investigators was “dead” and “they would never work in Suffolk County again,” according to the filing.

Suffolk County in February agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Christopher Loeb, the man Burke assaulted. A proposal to sue Burke to recoup the settlement was tabled in legislative committee in December after the county attorney said the suit would be "frivolous" because Burke was severed from the county's case. 

More coverage: The Politics of Corruption on Long Island: Thomas Spota, Christopher McPartland, James Burke

Three transformative proposals for LI

A conceptual illustrative rendering of the Nassau Hub
Credit: RXR, BSE Global

Three significant development projects that could transform their respective communities were discussed throughout the year.

In Uniondale, RXR Realty and BSE Global, which operates NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, agreed in September to build and finance a $1.5 billion project with housing, retail and office space on 72 acres around the arena. The site, also known as the Nassau Hub, is the last major tract of undeveloped land in Nassau County. Scott Rechler, chairman and CEO of Uniondale-based RXR Realty, said in November construction on the first phase of the project could begin within 18 to 24 months.

In Belmont, New York Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said in October a $1.2 billion plan to build a new arena for the team and an entertainment complex would begin in May, with the arena scheduled to open in October 2021. An environmental impact study released in December by the state’s economic development agency said the plan would not have significant adverse impacts on water resources, socioeconomic conditions, noise and air quality in the area, but would increase traffic congestion in the area, even with additional Long Island Rail Road trains running to and from the site on game days.

In Ronkonkoma, Suffolk County in April selected a $1.1 billion proposal for a 17,500-seat arena designed to lure a professional sports team as the centerpiece for development of a 40-acre parcel between MacArthur Airport and the Ronkonkoma train station. The planned sports and entertainment venue would be nearly the same size as a new 19,000-seat arena the Islanders are preparing to build in Belmont. In September, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine and Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter urged the county to cancel its agreement with Ronkonkoma Vision Project LLC, the team behind the project, citing a Newsday report that detailed the group’s previous failed development projects, bringing its qualifications into question.

LI shelter houses migrant children

The last migrant children separated from their parents
Credit: Howard Schnapp

In a story that brought a local spotlight to a national issue, Syosset shelter MercyFirst cared for a total of 19 migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border beginning in May, when the Trump administration imposed a “zero tolerance” illegal-immigration crackdown at the southern border, resulting in the separation of about 2,500 children from their parents. The last of the children staying at MercyFirst left in October. Some were flown home to their parents in Central America, while others moved in with relatives in the United States.

Mistrial in Manganos corruption case; Venditto acquitted

Linda Mangano and her husband, former Nassau County
Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge in June declared a mistrial in the corruption case of former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano,right, and his wife Linda, to his immediate left, who prosecutors said benefited from bribes from longtime friend and restaurateur Harendra Singh. A note from the jury foreman asking to be excused prompted the judge to declare the mistrial. A week earlier, the jury acquitted former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto of all 27 corruption-related charges he faced, including federal program bribery, honest-services wire fraud and securities fraud. A retrial of the Manganos was rescheduled for Jan. 10, just days before it was supposed to start in October after prosecutors turned over new material to the defense. 

More coverage: The Politics of Corruption on Long Island: Edward ManganoJohn Venditto

No survivors as small plane crashes off Long Island

Bonnie Krupinski and her husband, Ben, at an
Credit: Rich

A small plane crashed off the coast of Amagansett in June, killing all four people on board. The victims were Ben and Bonnie Krupinski, both 70, seen above, their grandson William Maerov, 22, all three of East Hampton, and pilot Jon Dollard, 47, of Hampton Bays. Ben Krupinski was a restaurant owner and builder to the stars — among them, Martha Stewart and Billy Joel. Bonnie was a developer and a businesswoman. Dollard, who was flying the plane from Newport State Airport in Rhode Island to East Hampton Airport, discussed the stormy weather conditions for an hour before takeoff, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report of the crash.

LI man detained by ICE released

Pablo Villavicencio, speaks at his home a day
Credit: Howard Schnapp

Pablo Villavicencio, second from right, a pizza delivery man who entered the United States illegally from Ecuador in 2008, gained national attention when he was detained in June delivering pizza to Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn after a routine check to allow him to enter the base raised an active Immigration and Customs Enforcement warrant for the Hempstead man. Villavicencio had ignored a voluntary departure granted by an immigration judge in 2010, meaning he would be allowed to leave the country on his own after entering without inspection — an option that carries a less severe ban on re-entry than when a person is removed by the government, an ICE spokeswoman said.

His family’s pleas to halt his deportation galvanized activists, who protested in Brooklyn chanting pro-immigrant slogans, and drew the attention of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who offered help and secured free legal aid for Villavicencio. In July, a federal judge ordered Villavicencio released from immigration detention and stayed his deportation, saying he should be freed and allowed to stay in the United States while pursuing legal residency based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen.

In October, Villavicencio was arrested and charged with criminal mischief in connection with an altercation with his wife and later released on bail.

Open Spaces

An aerial of a wooded natural area at
Credit: Newsday/Jeffrey Basinger

A Newsday investigation published in July found that several of Nassau County’s land purchases using $100 million apportioned from the landmark Environmental Bond Acts of 2004 and 2006 benefited political insiders. Almost $30 million was paid to people with ties to county politics, the property selection process, or both. After newly protected land was bought under the bond acts, officials and program backers planned for welcome booths and walking trails, kayak launches and well-placed benches for contemplation. More than a decade later, many of these plans haven’t materialized, leaving the county with a hidden landscape of pristine open spaces that many of its residents never use and may not even know exist.

As taxpayers continue to pay down the borrowing for the purchases, questions remain about whether the money could have been better used to realize a never-achieved promise of enhanced public access to some of the sites and whether other recommended properties held by less-connected people could have been bought instead. In November, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed legislation that would expand access to county parkland and better promote scores of open-space parcels.

Illegal dumping investigation

Illegally dumped dirt mounds adjacent to Brentwood State
Credit: Michael Owens

Nearly two dozen people were arrested in July in an undercover operation that New York's top environmental official described as the "largest-ever bust of illegal dumping in the state's history." The monthslong operation, which stretched across Long Island and New York City and found 21 new illegal dumping sites, centered on a dirt broker who offered residents clean fill and instead arranged for debris and solid waste to be placed on their properties. The defendants all pleaded not guilty, with defense attorneys saying their clients had no knowledge that contaminated fill was being taken to dozens of Long Island homes and businesses.

Brentwood activist against MS-13 violence killed

Anti-gang activist Evelyn Rodriguez was killed on Sept.
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Evelyn Rodriguez, pictured above, who became a national voice against MS-13 gang violence after her teenage daughter Kayla Cuevas was beaten to death in 2016, was fatally struck by an SUV in September following a dispute with the driver over the placement of a memorial to her child.

Rodriguez, 50, was struck less than two hours before a vigil to her slain daughter and two years to the day from when the teen’s body was discovered in a wooded area just off those streets. More than 200 people attended her funeral, which included eulogies from Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Peter King, among others.

AnnMarie Drago, the driver of the SUV, pleaded not guilty to charges of criminally negligent homicide and crimes related to the destruction and theft of a memorial to Cuevas, prosecutors said in November.

Boy Scout fatally struck by alleged drunken driver

Andrew McMorris, left, died Monday as a result
Credit: Family of Andrew McMorris; James Carbone

Andrew McMorris, left, was struck walking along a Manorville road in September by a vehicle driven by Thomas Murphy and later died from his injuries. The 12-year-old Wading River boy was among a group of 18 Boy Scouts and adults — all wearing bright red clothing — who were walking along the shoulder of the road that afternoon, a prosecutor said. Murphy, who told police he had been drinking that morning, was indicted on aggravated vehicular homicide, assault and other charges in the crash, which also sent four other Boy Scouts to the hospital.

McMorris, a seventh-grader at Albert Prodell Middle School in Shoreham, was remembered at his funeral as a compassionate child who dreamed of being an airline pilot and always looked for ways he could help others. 

More coverage: Parents express 'immeasurable loss' after son dies | Boy Scouts want to build, name lodge after peer

MS-13 on Long Island

Carlota Moran holds a photo of her late
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A Newsday series of reports detailed the rise of the MS-13 street gang on Long Island and its impact on the lives it touches; its victims, its members and the law enforcement working to stop it. Carlota Moran, seen above, of Brentwood, recalled the disappearance of her son, Miguel Garcia Moran, who is believed to have been killed by MS-13 members in 2016. Edwin, of Bay Shore, shared his story of joining MS-13 at the age of 14 and how he found a way out through faith. Suffolk police detailed how they police Hispanic communities and their struggle to gain the trust of those residents.

Throughout the year, police continued their efforts against the gang. Seventeen people with suspected MS-13 ties were indicted in January with crimes including murder and drug trafficking, including the alleged leader of the gang’s East Coast operations, Miguel Angel Corea Diaz. Following Corea Diaz’s arraignment in April, Nassau and Hempstead Village police said the gang pledged to “take the streets back” in retaliation and a member vowed to “execute” an officer.

Nationally, the Department of Justice’s fight against organized crime focused on MS-13 as well. In October, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions named John Durham, a veteran federal prosecutor on Long Island, to advise a new task force targeting MS-13 and other transnational groups.

Charles Wang dies

New York Islanders owner, Charles Wang speaks to
Credit: Newsday Staff/Kathy Kmonicek

Charles Wang, seen above, a founder of CA Technologies and former owner of the New York Islanders, died Oct. 21 of lung cancer at 74. Wang, of Oyster Bay, was born in China and moved to the United States at the age of 8 in 1952. He co-founded Computer Associates International, now known as CA Technologies, in 1976, serving as chairman and chief executive of what became one of Long Island’s iconic corporations.

He became owner of the Islanders in 2000, but failed in his efforts to renovate Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding area, ultimately leading to his decision to move the team from Long Island.

In 2004, Wang unveiled the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project for the 77-acre site with a new arena, minor-league baseball stadium, restaurants, retail and a 60-floor tower that resembled a lighthouse. Nassau voters in 2011 rejected a referendum on a $400 million taxpayer-funded revitalization plan for the Coliseum site. A year later, Wang, citing frustrations with the setbacks and politics, announced he would move the Islanders to the Barclays Center in 2015.

Wang used his wealth for various philanthropic efforts on Long Island, including providing $52 million for a sleek cultural center on the Stony Brook University campus to celebrate the links between Asian and American culture. The Charles B. Wang Center, which opened in 2002, was, at the time, the recipient of the largest donation from an individual to the State University of New York system. 

More coverage: Photos of Wang through the years | Readers share memories of Wang

Human remains found in Lake Grove home

Lake Grove home on Olive Street on Wednesday,
Credit: James Carbone

An intact skeleton found in the basement of a Lake Grove home was identified as the remains of George Carroll, a Korean War veteran who mysteriously disappeared nearly 60 years ago, police said in December.

Michael Carroll purchased his childhood home in the 1980s from his mother Dorothy, who never gave her children a straight answer about what happened to their father. They said Dorothy, who died in 1998, told them George went out one day in 1961 and never returned. Michael’s sons Christopher and Michael Jr. found the remains in October after spending months excavating the basement of the home in an attempt to solve the mystery. Police are investigating George Carroll’s death as a homicide. 

More coverage: Family unravels mystery after finding skeleton

Midterm elections

Democrats Anna Kaplan, Todd Kaminsky, James Gaughran, John
Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

All of Long Island’s U.S. Congressional representatives -- Rep. Lee Zeldin, Rep. Peter King, Rep. Thomas Suozzi and Rep. Kathleen Rice -- won re-election in the November midterms. In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand won her second term.

In state government races, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo won his third term, while Letitia James became the first African American in the state to be attorney general. In the State Senate, Democrats overturned a one-seat deficit to flip the chamber behind victories by four Long Island Democratic challengers: Democrat Monica R. Martinez defeated Republican Dean Murray, the local assemblyman, in the 3rd Senate District; James Gaughran, middle, beat Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino of Syosset in the 5th District; Democrat Kevin Thomas beat longtime Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon of Garden City in the 6th District; and Democrat Anna Kaplan, far left, defeated Republican Sen. Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill in the 7th District. 

More coverage: See election results

Bleak year for LIRR amid changes in leadership

Leaves accumulate near the crossing on Franklin Avenue
Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Long Island Rail Road is on pace for its worst year in terms of on-time performance since 1999. November marked the fifth straight month in which its performance fell compared to the same period last year, the railroad said. Through 11 months, 90.2 percent of LIRR trains have been on time, down from 91.6 percent through November 2017. The railroad has attributed growing delays to a number of factors throughout the year, including necessary construction work and weather.

Over the course of this year, the railroad also experienced changes in leadership. In April, Phillip Eng, of Smithtown, replaced Patrick Nowakowski as president of the LIRR, while in November, MTA Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer became acting chairman following the resignation of MTA chairman Joseph Lhota after a 16-month tenure.

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