In 1998 the LIRR'S Herricks Road crossing in Mineola discarded the most-hazardous-train-crossing-in-the-country label it had been given by the National Transportation Safety Board: That's the year work was finished on a project to elevate the crossing.
A tragedy 16 years earlier -- a train collided with a van carrying 10 teenagers, killing nine of them -- gave new impetus to efforts to elevate the tracks, the site of other deadly accidents over the years. The crossing was known for traffic backups and impatient drivers rushing past the warning gates.
George Sommer remembers the night of the 1982 accident, a few blocks from his Mineola home: His son had planned to go out with those teens, but Sommer kept him home in an act of discipline over schoolwork.
Today he remains intent on keeping Herricks Road safe at the train crossing. Even though the road now passes under the tracks, he says its condition is flawed.
Watchdog accompanied Sommer, a retired engineer, to the site, where he pointed out the problem: The "crash cushion" on the south end of the center divider had been demolished in an accident.
The purpose of the cushion is to absorb the energy of a vehicle that hits it, Sommer said. The buffer "kills the velocity" of the vehicle, he said, and prevents it from flying rocket-like into traffic on the other side of the median.
A file notates his efforts to get the cushion replaced: He's tried the Village of Mineola, Nassau County, the Long Island Rail Road and the New York State Department of Transportation. Herricks is a county road, and the county responded by removing damaged pieces of the center divider guardrail, which posed another hazard. Orange barrels and yellow tape were positioned around the crumpled cushion.
But Sommer persisted, and phone call after phone call left him despairing that the next collision would be deadly.
He turned to Watchdog, and we contacted the county's Department of Public Works to ask: Had budget constraints doomed the chances of replacing the cushion?
Here's the county's response: "The Nassau County DPW is identifying the appropriate infrastructure for use in replacing the crash attenuators" -- aka cushions -- "at the location," spokesman Michael Martino said in an email.
Crash attenuator or cushion or an infrastructure to be named later, the words make no difference to Sommer. He'll just be relieved once it's in place.
Permit fee for alarm system at issue
Antoinette Glacken is still waiting for Nassau County to consider waiving the permit fee required for her home alarm system.
She was fined last year when her alarm sounded in Tropical Storm Irene and she was unable to deactivate it in the darkness. An officer came to her house, and then a bill arrived in the mail: a $100 fine because she didn't have a permit plus a $100 fee to obtain a permit.
Glacken was unaware of the need for a permit and made the case that "financially choked" senior citizens should be exempt. County Executive Edward Mangano told us he would ask the county's Hardship Review Board to consider her proposal. In the year since, the fine for a false alarm rose to $150.
Here's the county's rationale for the fee: Police can't afford to spend time answering false alarms. As they told the county legislature when the measure was being considered years ago: 99.4 percent of alarms police answered in one year were false. The county put the permit fee into effect along with a fine for a false alarm at a home without a permit.
A notice on the county's website alerts homeowners that if they don't get a permit, their address may wind up in No Response Mode: "This means if an alarm transmission is received, Nassau County Police personnel will not be assigned to respond unless independent information suggests that a police response is necessary."
A few weeks ago, when Glacken received a notice from her home security company restating the permit requirement, she turned to Watchdog again. "Since this was an Election Year, I thought Mr. Mangano would do something and help us seniors," she wrote, "but I guess not." After her signature she wrote: Senior 79 years old.
We asked the county if the Hardship Review Board had considered her proposal to exempt senior citizens.
"We are preparing legislation that will provide the Commissioner of Police the ability to waive permit alarm fees based on financial or other hardships," county spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles responded in an email.
Glacken is hoping the legislature will act before there's another false alarm.