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Suffolk lawmakers seek info on hypothermia death of Thomas Valva after he slept in freezing garage

Thomas Valva's picture is displayed at St. John

Thomas Valva's picture is displayed at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Center Moriches in January.   Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County legislators are seeking information about the January hypothermia death of Thomas Valva, an 8-year-old boy who authorities said was forced to sleep overnight in an unheated Center Moriches garage.

A special legislative task force charged with reviewing the events leading to Thomas’ death and recommending how to prevent a similar tragedy encouraged anyone with pertinent information to come forward.

The task force, created in March but delayed by the pandemic, appointed a new outside counsel last month to help in its probe. Lawrence Jay Braunstein, of the White Plains-based firm Braunstein & Zuckerman, will help the three-member committee examine what went wrong in the county's child protective system, officials said Tuesday.

Braunstein, an adjunct professor at Hofstra who also has taught courses in investigating sex crimes, child abuse and homicide in the New York City Police Department, will replace Kevin Werner, officials said. Werner, who was appointed as special counsel in August, withdrew because his Bay Shore-based firm, Long Tuminello, had a conflict of interest in an unrelated case involving Suffolk, officials said Tuesday.

Werner did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

Prosecutors said Thomas’ father, Michael Valva, and girlfriend Angela Pollina forced the third-grader and his brother to sleep in an unheated garage as temperatures outside dipped to 19 degrees. Valva and Pollina have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and child endangerment.

Thomas’ death came after his mother, Justyna Zubko-Valva, and East Moriches Elementary School officials had expressed concerns about the boy’s welfare that were ignored by county agencies designed to protect children, a Newsday review of documents found.

"We owe it to the memory of Thomas Valva, to his siblings, to his mother and his family and friends to do all that we can to improve the system," Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said in a statement.

Anyone with information in the Valva case can contact the task force at valvacommittee@suffolkcountyny.gov.

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