A 90-year-old beloved barbershop owner who survived World War II, two open-heart surgeries and pancreatic cancer was struck and killed near his Jamesport home by a suspected drunken driver, family members and police said Wednesday.
George J. Kurovics was standing on the shoulder of Main Road at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday when he was hit by a Mercedes-Benz, Riverhead police said.
Police said Diane O'Neill, 65, of Farmingville, was arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated. The Southold High School math teacher was arraigned Wednesday and released on $10,000 cash bail at Riverhead Justice Court. She declined to comment afterward.
Moments before the fatal accident, Kurovics was driving home and spotted the body of his cat Buddy, who had apparently ventured too far into traffic, according to his son George A. Kurovics, 34, of Jamesport.
The son said his father pulled over and carried the pet's body to the side of the road, where he was hit.
"He was taken too soon -- even at the age of 90 with everything he's been through," the son said. "I wanted him to live to be 100."
The officer who responded to the scene said O'Neill was "unsteady on her feet, had glassy, bloodshot eyes, and an odor of alcoholic beverage on her breath," prosecutors said.
O'Neill, a 21-year-veteran of the Southold district, told police she had two glasses of wine at dinner and was on her way home, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said upgraded or additional charges may be filed against O'Neill, who does not have any prior convictions.
Southold schools Superintendent David A. Gamberg said O'Neill's "status with the district is pending."
The victim was remembered Wednesday as a kindhearted family man who loved meeting people and never forgot a name.
He opened George's Barber Shop in Rocky Point in 1948, after serving as a Navy petty officer in the war, the family said.
Kurovics kept generations of families happy in his barber chair. Late in life, when his scissor hand became unsteady, he'd grasp it with his other hand to control the shaking, recalled a customer, Keith Uhl, 43, of Rocky Point.
"George always remembered you," said Uhl, who dropped off flowers at the shop where a makeshift memorial grew. "He would know your name. He would talk to you, ask you about what you spoke about the last time."
Wednesday, a heart-shaped note was taped by the front door. It read: "God bless George the barber. Loved + known by all. You will be missed."
Lillian Kenny, 64, of Rocky Point, who arrived with her 8-year-old grandson Tyler, said a quick a prayer.
Kurovics had given Tyler his first haircut when he was 2. She said he pulled out a giant comb, like one you'd "see in the circus," to make the toddler laugh.
Joyce Kurovics told News 12 Long Island that her husband "was simple and ambitious and determined."
"It's hard to believe he's not here," she said.
In his shop, the barber paid homage to Rocky Point with pictures and articles about the community on the walls, along with police department patches. He'd reward children with lollipops.
Customers said the shop was Kurovics' love and he never stopped working five days a week -- getting up at 4:30 a.m. and coming home at 7 p.m. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago but survived, his son said.
"He was like a miracle," he said.
In addition to his wife and son George, Kurovics is survived by daughters Linda Sue Shropshire of Miller Place and Joy Domino of Southold, and son Lee Kurovics of Middle Island, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.