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Long Island

Roadways dedicated to a pair of LI heroes

Friends and family of FDNY Lt. Christopher Raguso, as well as Suffolk County officials, gathered at the Commack firehouse on Saturday to honor him with the renaming of a stretch of Jericho Turnpike.  (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

The bagpipers played their sad song, local dignitaries spoke words of praise, and two widows watched as Long Islanders dedicated streets to two fallen heroes Saturday.

In Commack, a soft wind billowed a giant American flag outside the fire department as several hundred people dedicated a stretch of Jericho Turnpike in honor of Christopher Raguso. A lieutenant in both the FDNY and his hometown department, Raguso was serving in the Air National Guard when his helicopter crashed in Iraq last year, killing all on board.

In North Massapequa, several hundred people dedicated North Utica Avenue as “Officer Michael D. Russell Way,” in honor of the NYPD officer and local resident killed while attempting to arrest a man in 1979.

Long Island has a long tradition of dedicating streets to local people killed while protecting the public. While these ceremonies are often both solemn and celebratory, Raguso's wife, Carmela, told those gathered that this was not a day to grieve.

"This is a happy day — no tears allowed," said Raguso, who proceeded to regale the audience with funny stories about her and her husband.

She said Jericho Turnpike is filled with memories they cherished: the high jinks of their first date riding in a fire truck, the time they zipped around on his motorcycle, and their frantic drives to the hospital when she gave birth to their two daughters.

Raguso, 39, was remembered as a man who loved his community and country so much that he risked his life for both, saving people here and abroad over the years.

As a member of a rescue wing of the Air National Guard, he was deployed several times to war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, and traveled to Texas and the Caribbean to help hurricane victims. 

Officials unveiled the  sign commemorating "Lt Christopher J Raguso FDNY-CFD Memorial Highway," which will run from just west of Elwood Road to east of the Smithtown Bull statue.

His father, John Raguso, spoke of his son's legacy, especially how it will be seen by his daughters, Mila, 8, and Eva, 6.

"In time they'll look back at the videos of their dad and get a better perspective," said John Raguso. "And they'll think, 'Wow, they named a street in his memory.'"

In North Massapequa, friends recalled that Russell had just gotten up to bat at a police-community softball game in Brooklyn, when some teenagers cut across the field, got in an argument with players, and one of them shot and killed a civilian player. 

Russell, who was unarmed, chased the shooter and was himself shot and killed. 

“That’s the kind of guy Mike was,” said George Hanley, 75, of Levittown, a childhood friend who was a fellow officer at the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn. “There was no fear in the man, and he did what he had to do.”

Russell's wife, Grace DeSimone Russell, said he had moved to North Utica Avenue when he was a senior in high school in 1966. He purchased his childhood home in 1973, where his son, Donald Russell, and daughter, Jessica Russell Bany, grew up.

“When you pass this block and you see that honor, don’t dwell on that heroic act of 40 years ago that ended in tragedy,” his wife said. “Think of the man who enjoyed life.  A man who people were drawn to. A man who leaves a legacy of love and respect.”

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