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East Setauket deck collapsed at party at illegal conversion, officials say

Police tape surrounds a deck that fell to

Police tape surrounds a deck that fell to the ground during a Friday night party in East Setauket, as seen on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

As hundreds of college students partied late Friday night, an elevated wooden deck collapsed behind an East Setauket home that authorities say had been illegally converted into a half-dozen apartments.

Two people were injured in the collapse, but officials said the toll could have been far worse.

Party guests were gathered about 11 p.m. under the 10-foot-high deck when the structure began to creak and sway, said Brookhaven Town Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Mehrman.

“They got out from under the deck just in time, and the entire deck collapsed and came down,” he said Saturday.

At least 400 people — most believed to be students — were at the house at 15 Old Field Rd. to celebrate Stony Brook University’s move-in day, officials said.

The owner of the home, Zeyit Aydinli, said he rented the house to his cousin and two other people, all Stony Brook students.

“I’m lucky that no one is dead,” Aydinli said Saturday afternoon.

A next-door neighbor, Lauren Krupp, said she called police to complain about the party — “lots and lots of people, lots of noise, lots of cars.”

Then she said she heard “what sounded like an explosion,” which turned out to be the deck coming down.

About 40 to 50 people were on the deck when it collapsed, officials said.

The injured were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital, with one person treated for a broken leg and the other for abrasions. A third person was treated for severe alcohol intoxication, said Scott Gressin, Setauket Fire Department’s third assistant chief.

The four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house with one kitchen was broken up into apartments with keyed entry doors, according to Mehrman, who said six people were living in the house.

“We did find interior locks on the doors, on bedroom doors, and some conversions of a living room into two bedrooms,” he said, adding that bedroom door locks “are indicative of people renting rooms.”

The investigation was continuing and no citations had been issued late Saturday. Illegal conversion is a violation of town code that carries steep fines.

Mehrman said the home also lacked sufficient smoke alarms and carbon-monoxide detectors, which could result in misdemeanor infractions.

Aydinli, who lives down the street, said he had no knowledge of the home being converted.

“I have a lease agreement with three persons. . . . Nothing’s subdivided,” he said.

He declined to provide his cousin’s name. A man contacted at the rental house Saturday afternoon declined to comment.

Two ambulances, an engine ladder, a rescue truck, paramedics and two other chiefs from the Setauket Fire Department responded to the collapse, Gressin said.

After the injured were tended to Friday night, Gressin said he entered the home along with Suffolk County police officers and found about 150 revelers still partying inside — with kegs and cases of beer, and liquor bottles strewn about.

The residents were allowed to stay at the house until officials follow up with the town’s law department on Monday, “but it’s probably not the best environment for them to be there,” Mehrman said.

Town officials have to go through building and planning department archives to see if there was a permit issued to build the deck, although it may have been an original part of the home, built in 1974, Mehrman said.

A preliminary investigation found that the deck’s ledger board was fastened to the house over shingles with nails instead of being bolted on, a violation of town code, he said.

But Gressin said even a well-built deck could have buckled under the weight of so many people.

“I think it was more of a problem with the amount of people there, and the amount of alcohol being consumed,” he said.

Firefighters often discover illegally converted homes in the area near the university while responding to emergencies, Mehrman and Gressin said.

“This is a major problem,” Mehrman said. “The town supervisor [Edward Romaine] has made it one of his priorities. Because of the closeness to the university . . . there are these homes that are being cut up into apartments, and they are illegal rentals.”

He said dozens of illegal rentals have been discovered by town officials in the past year.

Stony Brook University declined to immediately comment on the East Setauket incident. A spokesman said the university has “taken many steps to educate our students so they can avoid becoming involved with illegal rentals.”

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