1. SUPERSTORM SANDY
The storm of the century indisputably tops the list of stories of the year. Superstorm Sandy prompted LI leaders to request $8 billion in federal aid. It caused 13 local deaths out of more than 200 nationwide.
Most of LI was blacked out—many for weeks. Nassau’s Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant failed, flooding homes and waterways with raw sewage. Breaches tore through Fire Island and neighboring Westhampton Island. An ensuing gas crisis sparked lines blocks and hours long. Hundreds have been left homeless. Some waterfront roads and boardwalks were destroyed.
And the full impact is still being calculated.
2. NASSAU POLICE DEATHS
This was an especially trying year for Nassau County police. Two veteran police officers—43-year-old Highway Patrolman Joseph Olivieri and 29-year-old Emergency Services Unit officer Arthur Lopez—died in the line of duty less than a week apart. Olivieri was assisting an alleged drunk driver on the Long Island Expressway on Oct. 18 when he was fatally struck by a SUV trying to avoid the crash scene. Five days later, Lopez and his partner were in Bellerose Terrace performing a traffic stop when the driver fatally shot Lopez in the chest and later gunned down a carjacking victim. Police made arrests in both cases. The line-of-duty deaths came amid a controversial consolidation of Nassau’s eight police precincts into four that spawned heated debates.
The sudden death of Nassau County Legis. Peter Schmitt, the late presiding officer who led the GOP’s 10-9 majority, proved one of the most shocking and sad stories of the year. The 62-year-old veteran Republican lawmaker died of a heart attack Oct. 3 during a budget meeting in County Executive Ed Mangano’s office. Love him or hate him, politicos on both sides of the aisle mourned the loss of the no-nonsense lawmaker staunchly opposed to raising property taxes in the financially troubled county. His epic debates with Democratic rivals in the chamber he led will be greatly missed.
4. ISLES LEAVE LONG ISLAND
The NY Islanders unsurprisingly announced Oct. 24 their blessing-in-disguise plans to ditch the aging Nassau Coliseum they’ve called home for 40 years and skate over to the new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, where they’ve signed a 25-year lease starting in 2015. Billionaire team owner Charles Wang pulled out in frustration after Hempstead town nixed his plans to build a mini-city around the Uniondale arena and the taxpayers voted down $400 million in proposed public borrowing to rebuild the 26th-place NHL team’s home. Now that the Isles are BK’s problem, Nassau wants to retry redeveloping the outgoing team’s prime real estate.
5. HOFSTRA PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
Have we mentioned that October was a busy month for LI journalists? Hofstra University hosted their second presidential debate Oct. 16 between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a town-hall style format that landed some locals in the national spotlight. Security was much tighter than four years ago because there was a sitting president in the matchup. Some protesters, like the Green Party’s presidential candidate, complained of being detained for hours on a disorderly conduct charge. No prostitutes claimed that Secret Service agents tried to rip them off while they were off duty, so maybe the debates will be back in 2016!
6. SUFFOLK WILDFIRES
Suffolk County police are still looking for the arsonist who started a massive brushfire in Ridge and Manorville in April that destroyed 1,200 acres of woodlands, three homes and injured three firefighters as dry weather conditions and high winds fueled the flames. More than 100 fire departments responded to the inferno. Many homes and businesses were evacuated as firefighters stormed wooded areas from the ground and helicopters dumped hundreds of gallons of water from above. Another brushfire broke out in Manorville a week later. Investigators confirmed that the Ridge-Manorville blaze was intentionally started north of Brookhaven National Laboratory.
7. OYSTER BAY BOATING TRAGEDY
When a cabin cruiser sank in Oyster Bay, claiming the lives of three children during a family Fourth of July fireworks show voyage, it did more than break LI’s collective heart. The tragedy raised public consciousness to the murky waters of boating laws—such as the fact that vessel operators can be charged with not having enough life jackets or having too many people aboard. No charges were filed in this case, but questions linger about what went wrong, whether there were too many people aboard and if the operator was experienced enough to navigate through a squall.
8. NASSAU EX-COP INDICTMENTS
Sure, there’ve been a few bad apples in the Nassau County Police Department arrested for wrong-doing over the years. But a grand jury indicting three ex-NCPD commanders—including a former second deputy commissioner—on conspiracy and misconduct charges for allegedly covering up a 2009 burglary—rivals even last year’s crime lab scandal. Prosecutors launched an investigation into the trio after a Press expose detailed the crimes and the lack of charges for the perpetrator, the son of a police nonprofit donor. The burglar has since been imprisoned and the former third top cop is scheduled to go to trial first next month. Stay tuned.
9. GOP ALBANY ANTICS
No LI news year-in-review would be complete without some Albany weirdness trickling down the Hudson to our shores. Just this month, New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the chamber’s GOP majority leader, announced he will share power with a breakaway faction of Democrats in 2013. He and state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), head of the Independent Democratic Caucus—a group that defected from the pack amid dysfunction two years ago—will alternate leadership every two weeks. Basically, it means LI’s nine Republican senators managed to salvage their power despite Democrats winning the majority Nov. 6.
10. SOUTHERN STATE DUI TRAGEDY
A deadly crash on the Southern State Parkway in the early morning hours of Oct. 8 claimed the lives of four Queens teenagers when 17-year-old Joseph Beer, driving with only a learner’s permit, lost control of his Subaru and slammed into several trees. The Queens teen has been charged with vehicular homicide, among other charges. His blood sample tested positive for marijuana two hours after the crash and he was driving 110 mph leading up to it, according to prosecutors. His parents were also charged for knowingly allowing their son to drive without a license.