Wilson Batista Jr. still fights to hold on to his childhood. He wants to go back to Timberline Park, to meet friends, to play basketball. But he can’t just now.
“Would you want to go back there?” the 14-year-old asks about the Brentwood playground where he was nearly killed 10 months ago. A gunman’s bullet pierced his eye while he was playing basketball with friends.
Wilson has become a symbol of the senseless violent crime that has spiked in Brentwood and Central Islip in the past year. Fueled in part by gang activity that has plagued the area and others on Long Island in recent years, Brentwood has become the center of an aggressive law enforcement and county response since neighborhood residents began complaining about the fears they are living with daily.
“It’s [the gangs] against the public,” said Wilson Jr., whom police say was shot when someone mistook him for a rival gang member. An 18-year-old was charged in the case.
The road back
Wilson Jr. knows he is lucky to be alive. After the shooting on June 15, he spent five months in the hospital. “They only gave me a 10 percent chance of life. You do the math,” he said. “Hit the bull’s-eye from a mile away.”
Doctors told the Batistas that even if Wilson lived, he might never fully recover.
“No talking, no walking, couldn’t guarantee the eye – nothing,” Wilson Batista Sr. said. “Now look at him.”
For 40 long nights, the Batistas paced the halls of Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park as their son clung to life in the intensive care unit.
“How much he’s recovered I can’t really put in words,” the boy’s mother, Ramona, said.
Still, his injuries have been severe. Wilson lost an eye, and has poor vision in the other. He lost some cognition, and has limited use of his left arm.
He relies on a cane to help him slowly move through his parents’ modest three-bedroom home near Timberline Park. Wilson attends three physical therapy sessions a week.
One session treats his 20/400 vision in his left eye. “He can’t see much. He can’t read,” Wilson Sr. said. He’s still not back in school.
Another therapy session treats his walking ability. After spending months in a hospital bed and months in a wheelchair, Wilson still doesn’t have full strength in his legs.
The third therapy session concentrates on his speech. When the bullet became lodged in Wilson’s brain, it severely disrupted his cognition, his family said. But therapy is helping. “I want [him] to have physical therapy every day,” Wilson Sr. said. “The money isn’t there.”
Bills add up
Following Wilson’s shooting, Ramona quit her job at a factory, and his father cut back his schedule as a custodian at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.
The Batista family received monetary aid from Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano’s office, along with private donations totaling about $12,500.
“He’s come a long way and the family is strong and resilient,” Montano said.
The biggest help came from the Long Island Housing Services, Wilson Sr. said. Lisa Purzak, a housing counselor, helped the Batistas work with the bank to lower their monthly mortgage from $1,800 down to just above $900.
“What saved the house was Bank of America reducing the rate,” Purzak said. “Not every story is a success story.”
Ramona is home more, cooking dinner for the family, and Wilson Sr. often takes his son for drives around the neighborhood and to the mall.
“I’ll take care of them when I grow up,” Wilson Jr. said.
Wilson’s expression brightens when he talks of his family, and all they’ve done to support him – including giving him gifts.
But he doesn’t hesitate when asked what was the best gift he received. In a powerful and steady voice, Wilson says:
“My life back.”
The Bautista family has prayed for a miracle since last month when Wilson Bautista Jr. was shot in the eye while playing hoops in a Brentwood park.
Wednesday the Bautistas weren’t alone.
Just steps from where Wilson, 13, was shot on the night of June 15 at Timberline Park in Brentwood, relatives, friends and supporters joined the family for a somber prayer service.
“God is the only one who has the answer for what the future is for . . . [Wilson],” his mother, Ramona, said through an interpreter at the service Wednesday night. “I am asking God for a miracle.”
Nearly 100 people gathered in the park for the service, which included representatives from Long Island churches and mosques.
“One of your children needs your interference,” said the Rev. Roderick Pearson, the president of the Town of Islip NAACP, during the service.
Police still say they have no suspects in the shooting, which happened as Wilson played basketball with friends on a court in the park.
He has remained in a coma since the shooting and has had other complications. Blood clots have formed in his lungs and his legs, preventing surgeons from operating, Ramona Bautista said.
But, she added, she has noticed slight improvement.
Since the shooting, neither Ramona Bautista or Wilson’s father, Wilson Bautista Sr., have returned to their jobs. They’ve spent all their time at the hospital at his side.
Wednesday night they pleaded with whoever shot Wilson to come forward.
“You have to pay for whatever you did,” Ramona Bautista said. “One day you will get married, and I know you want nothing to happen to one of your kids like what happened to my son.”
Wilson’s father is a custodian at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore who usually works 80 hours a week, and Wilson’s mother is an employee for a perfume company. They now are looking for help with their finances from the community.
Legis. Ricardo Montano (D- Central Islip) said the family is looking at tapping into the New York State Crime Victims Compensation fund. They are receiving help making their house payments from a nonprofit community group, but don’t know how much more treatment their medical insurance will cover.
“I don’t know how long the insurance will be for,” Wilson’s mother said. “It’s a long way to improve.”
The Town of North Hempstead is looking next door to its town hall in Manhasset for extra parking and office space. And Monday night neighbors spoke out, criticizing the town’s planned purchase.
Supervisor Jon Kaiman told residents the town had placed a bid for $625,000 on the property at 51 Andrew St., a residence adjacent to town hall, with the aim of using it for 10 parking spots and office space.
But residents expressed concern about the cost, whether there’s a need for more office and parking space as well as the destiny of the empty three-story house.
“Is that really in the best interests of the town – all of us?” asked Terri Riggin, who lives on the other side of the available house.
The house, owned by a bank, went back on the market for $599,000 a month ago after sitting empty for a year with an $800,000 price tag, according to Riggin’s husband, Bill.
Kaiman said he wants the town board to vote on the purchase within a month before the bank has a chance to sell the property to another buyer. The board next meets on Sept. 8.
Kaiman insisted that he will not tear down the house but said future administrations would have the legal authority to do so. “If we do acquire the house, we want to do it with the least adverse effect to the neighborhood,” he said.
Kaiman said code enforcement official would operate out of the house temporarily. He said he didn’t know how much eventual work on the site would cost, but said town employees would do the construction.
Others at the special public forum said the project is being rushed and alternatives should be explored. “There’s a lack of planning and due diligence,” said Ron Rainone of Manhasset. “It’s a cowboy approach.” Residents urged Kaiman and the town to explore options.
“There is no fire. You owe it to your residents and your constituents to be transparent and to do it in a level-headed way,” said George Faeth.
August 13, 2007 by TIMOTHY ROBERTSON / firstname.lastname@example.org
With a kiss goodnight, Kwesi “Roland” Amissah’s fiancee went on a rare night out without him. Amissah, 27, of North Amityville, walked to a Masonic lodge for dinner, where he was shot to death.
Now Saunterris Baker and Amissah’s two young children by another relationship are without their “innocent big baby,” as she called him. Suffolk police have no forthcoming witnesses or suspects, despite their belief that up to 30 people saw the shooting in the tight-knit neighborhood on Friday.
“The code on the street is: you see something, you don’t tell. It’s a very ignorant attitude to have,” she said.
While police have told her that calls are pouring in with information, Baker says no one wants to go on record with police.
“I want this solved,” Baker said. “To think no one’s going to pay for what they’ve done. No one’s going to be behind bars. To think that is unreal.”
Police returned to the Hollywood Lodge on the corner of Coolidge and Rosewood avenues yesterday to work up the case and planned to look at surveillance footage from the lodge.
“We’re reviewing the security tape to see if anything went on inside, but there isn’t any exterior video,” said Sgt. Paul Dodorico.
Suffolk cops said Amissah didn’t show signs of a struggle before he was shot.
Friday was the first and only night the inseparable couple didn’t spend time with each other, Baker said.
“We were stuck like glue,” she said. “That was the one time we weren’t together to eat dinner.”
While Baker, 26, went to Yonkers with her girlfriends, Amissah went alone to the lodge a half-mile from his house.
“He calls me and says, ‘Hey, baby girl, I wanted to call and tell you that I’m here at the lodge. I’m going to get some food, and I’m going to beat you home,'” she recalled at her home yesterday as she stared into space.
Ten minutes later, Baker received a phone call that her fiance was shot.
Cops found Amissah with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso. He was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip at 1:10 a.m.
Amissah moved to North Amityville and befriended Baker’s brothers at age 11, and was another big brother to Baker. It wasn’t until March that Baker and Amissah began dating, and just a month ago, the live-in couple got engaged.
“He was such a sweetheart. Everyone that met him fell in love with him,” Baker said.
“It’s God’s work, I won’t question it. But I don’t understand it,” she said as she fought back tears.
Viewing will be Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m., with the funeral immediately afterward at J.F. Goode Funeral Home on Albany Avenue in North Amityville.
Amissah will be buried at Pinelawn Memorial Park.
“I’m taking care of all the arrangements, but I’m pretending that it never happened,” Baker said. “You have to trick yourself for why that person isn’t here.”
September 3, 2009 by TIMOTHY ROBERTSON. Special to Newsday /
Looking to move out of a tight condo in Rego Park, John Pai looked east to Manhasset as a potential home for his family of four. He wanted good schools for his two young children and an easier commute to his job as a computer consultant in Nassau County.
For just $590,000 – $200,000 less than comparable homes in Manhasset – Pai said he found the house he wanted. And he thought he had it.
Until the Town of North Hempstead entered the picture.
“I see now it is almost impossible to beat the town,” Pai said this week.
At the end of July, Pai reached agreement with the bank that owns the house on a price of $590,000. Pai signed a purchase contract and made a $60,000 deposit.
“I thought when someone signed a contract and sent in a deposit, it was a done deal,” he said in an interview.
But the house, at 51 Andrew St., is next to Town Hall. And when town officials heard it was available, they saw an opportunity to expand.
At an Aug. 4 meeting, town board members voted to hire a lawyer to look into a potential purchase. The town then placed a $600,000 bid.
When Pai found out, he upped his bid to $620,000.
The town bid $625,000.
Pai bid $635,000 – his limit.
But he couldn’t match the town’s terms: a cash deal.
So the bank accepted the town’s offer.
“I had it for $590,000 and all of a sudden I’m bidding $45,000 more,” Pai said. “It didn’t seem right.”
He said he understands the town won the bidding war legally. He’s asked for a return of his down payment, and his attorney is negotiating with the town for reimbursement of some fees Pai paid toward the purchase.
Pai would still like to buy the house – and the neighbors want him to have it, too.
Andrew Street resident Bill Riggin said the town’s purchase “obviously changes the residential character of Manhasset – and takes away an opportunity from a family of getting into Manhasset.”
Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman said Monday that the property could be used for needed office space and 10 parking spots.
The town is exploring other options, including several raised by Andrew Street residents, even as it moves forward with the acquisition, said Sidhartha Nathan, a town spokesman. The purchase awaits town board approval.
“It’s a unique parcel of land and at such a cheap price,” Nathan said. “It makes sense for the town because we have parking issues.”
The Michael McDonough his neighbors know is looking forward to his senior year at Sachem High School North and getting his driver’s license, has a steady girlfriend, and is an only child who is very close to his parents.
Terry Devine and her son, Sean, neighbors of the family in Holbrook, were among those expressing bewilderment yesterday at McDonough’s alleged involvement in a violent plot against students and teachers at Connetquot High School.
“I don’t believe at all, in my heart, that boy is capable – he wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone a human being,” said Terry Devine, 52, who said she has known McDonough, 17, for seven years.
Added Sean Devine, 22: “A kid like that has a job, a girlfriend, graduating school soon. Why would he go and ruin his future like that?”
It wasn’t clear how McDonough knew the 15-year-old who police say was the mastermind of the alleged conspiracy. Both worked at a McDonald’s restaurant in Bohemia, but they also live at mobile home parks that are near one another.
The two were charged with fifth-degree conspiracy to purchase guns and an explosive powder in the alleged scheme; the 15-year-old is charged as a juvenile. If convicted of the misdemeanor charge, each faces up to 1 year in a correctional facility.
McDonough remained in Suffolk County jail late yesterday, held on $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash bail. He is due back in First District Court in Central Islip tomorrow.
Terry Devine expressed concern for the teenager’s future. “Where will he complete his high school education?” she said.
The family has faced other challenges recently, Devine said. McDonough’s father underwent chemotherapy treatment in the spring, causing him to miss work.
Neighbors said the 15-year-old and his family were known to care for and routinely interact with senior citizens in their keep-to-yourself neighborhood.
They said they didn’t know much about the Connetquot High student but described him as a normal, well-behaved teenager.
Lance Armstrong they’re not. But Ryan Burkett and Dennis Edison are undertaking a bike ride that – though not as fast or rugged as the 2,200- mile Tour de France – will keep them pedaling for 1,100 more miles.
Burkett, of Lynbrook, and Edison, of Long Beach, embarked this week on a 3,300- mile bicycle trek that will take them through 15 states – a journey to raise money for a Wantagh baby with a rare, incurable and often fatal disease.
The two friends are headed from Wantagh to Irvine, Calif., with the aim of helping 6-month-old Sophia Gaynor get into a clinical stem cell research trial for babies with the rare degenerative motor neuron disease type 1 spinal muscular atrophy at the University of California-Irvine. Sophia is unable to crawl or even hold her head up and spends her days lying on her back, connected to life-sustaining equipment.
Burkett said the two will ride about 100 miles a day, with a few days of rest built in, for two months, and return by air.
Burkett, who will ship off to South Carolina for boot camp with the Marines when he returns, planned on taking the ride even before he heard about the plight of Sophia. But he knew he wanted to make the trip for a good cause.
“I was looking for anything to make the ride more than for myself,” Burkett said. “As soon as I read Sophia’s story [in Newsday July 16], I knew I found a right reason.”
So two months ago the 24- year-old contacted Sophia’s parents, Vincent and Catherine Gaynor, who had launched an online fundraising effort, Sophia’s Cure, to get more information and ask how he could help raise money. But it was his first meeting with Sophia a day before her 6-month birthday that really moved him.
“I was blown away with how much life was in her and how energetic she was,” he said. “She was making noises and smiling the whole time. I was surprised.”
Burkett and Edison hope to raise $50,000 to assist efforts aimed at getting Sophia into the clinical trial at the University of California – a step toward the Gaynor family’s goal of $200,000. The program will accept nine babies beginning in January. As of early last week, the bikers’ Ride for Sophia’s Cure had raised a little more than $6,000. Contributions are being taken at sophiascure .com. Overall, the Gaynors have raised $100,000 so far.
Burkett’s partner on the trip, Edison, 25, said, “When Ryan was telling me, it just leaves a little hole in your heart. If I can help, why not?”
To prepare for the ride, the two trained in different ways. Edison doesn’t have a car – the transmission blew – so he rode his BMX-style bike to run errands and to his job as a lifeguard in Long Beach. Burkett, on the other hand, began training a few months back, starting at 20 miles a day and steadily climbing up to 60 miles a day.
“I’m just excited, honestly. I can’t wait to get started,” Burkett said before he left.
The trip aims to avoid mountainous terrain as much as possible as they cycle through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. To avoid cold weather they’ll turn south, riding through Missouri, down to Texas and across the Southwest to Irvine.
“Mentally, it will be hard. [But] as far as riding, it won’t be an issue at all,” Edison said.
The two planned the journey with the help of a Web site, couchsurfing.com, where they found places to stay in 20 of the towns they’ll be passing through. The site connects travelers with hosts who allow guests to stay at their homes. On other nights the two will rough it, camping in a tent they’ll carry along.
For the ride, Burkett and Edison purchased two new Specialized road bikes. They’ll be riding without help – no cars trailing to make sure they get where they’re going safely – but Burkett says they’re well prepared: “I just bought a new cell phone with a new navigation system built in it, so I’m hoping that comes in handy.”
In all, Edison said, they’ve spent between $3,000 and $4,000 on the bikes, supplies and food. Edison has budgeted an additional $2,500 for the journey.
Beyond the adventure of the bike ride, Edison says his immediate goal is helping Sophia win her uphill race against the rare disease. “I’m trying to help raise money for this little girl while going on a crazy adventure,” he said.