Amiri Zeqiri, 17, of Central Islip, was working at a...

Amiri Zeqiri, 17, of Central Islip, was working at a Smithtown Dunkin' Donuts when he fell into this open cesspool Sunday night, police said. (Feb. 28, 2010) Credit: Rob Garofalo

Detectives are trying to determine how and when a cesspool cover went missing behind a Smithtown Dunkin' Donuts, leading to the death of a teenage worker who fell into the tank Sunday night while taking out garbage, Suffolk County police said.

Amiri Zeqiri, 17, of Central Islip, died after he was found in the cesspool by his 14-year-old cousin and co-worker, who went to look for him behind the store about 9:11 p.m., police said. The cousin heard Zeqiri yelling from the cesspool but efforts to save him were unsuccessful.

Police said that when they arrived the alley was dark, its one light broken.

Zeqiri, a college engineering student, was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m. at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital.

Det. Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky of the Suffolk homicide squad said the incident is being treated as a death investigation but police will examine whether criminal negligence was involved.

Homicide detectives were joined Monday by town investigators who want to know why the metal cover was missing, when it was removed, and who knew it wasn't in place. Federal officials said they, too, will investigate.

County officials say the owner of the strip mall is responsible for keeping the cesspool safe and the lights on. The owner, JKH Realty Group of Woodside, has been cited repeatedly by the town for problems related to the property, near Nesconset Highway and Route 111. Through his attorney, company owner Jagir Singh said he had no knowledge that the cover was missing.

The attorney, Daniel Sullivan of Central Islip, described Singh as "very distraught."

The owners of the strip mall and the Dunkin' Donuts franchise pointed to each other as being responsible for hiring a company that did recent work on the cesspool.

Sullivan said the Dunkin' Donuts owner hired a company to work on the cesspool and suggested the company may have left the cover off. He was unable to say when the work was done or why.

Franchise owner Jesse Walia referred a reporter to a spokesman for Dunkin' Donuts, who said that work on the cesspool was done by a company hired by JKH Realty.

Walia, who bought the business about three months ago, said earlier his workers knew the cover was not in place but could not say how long it had been missing. Asked whether anyone had tried to cover the opening, Walia said he thought some workers had placed milk crates around it. He said the only light in the alley had been out for some time. He said he had tried to get in touch with the property owner about the condition of the parking lot but had been unsuccessful.

Police said there were several cesspools behind the stores and confirmed that strip mall workers knew one cover was missing but could not say when or how it went missing. The cover also could have been broken, possibly by a snowplow, police said; a piece of a cover was found.

Town officials said they have issued nine summonses to JKH Realty Group on five occasions since March 2009. Three violations were for potholes, three for debris and others for a broken fence and a charity box placed in violation of town code. The most recent summonses were issued Jan. 11 for potholes and unsightly conditions.

With John Valenti, Gary Dymski and Patrick Whittle

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