“If anyone said to me, ‘What are the chances your kid will be involved in a drive-by shooting?’ I’d laugh at them,” said Rockville Centre resident Kathy Paesano, the mother of a 9-year-old girl who was in a car struck by a stray bullet in Hempstead seven weeks ago.
On June 15, a 57-year-old East Meadow babysitter was driving on West Graham Avenue near Brooklyn Road in Hempstead, on her way to Rockville Centre, just after 7 p.m. The woman, who declined to be identified, had four children in the car, having just picked up three of them from lacrosse practice in Garden City. Using a GPS navigation app on her phone, she turned on West Graham to avoid traffic on Peninsula Boulevard.
Out of the corner of her eye, she said she saw a few people who looked like they were setting off fireworks. “Seconds later, I felt a [pain] right into my left hip area,” the babysitter said. “It was so sharp and it was burning hot.”
She immediately pulled over, and discovered a bullet in the car, which had grazed her but did not pierce her skin. The 10-year-old boy in the passenger seat pointed out a bullet hole near the driver’s-side window, she said, and before she could dial 911, police began arriving at the scene.
Law enforcement responded with cars, helicopters and dogs, the woman recalled, but aside from a bad bruise on her hip, no one was injured. “There must have been angels looking down on us,” she said, “because with the four kids, it could have been such an awful outcome.”
Nassau County Police Department 3rd Squad detectives reported that Duane Costa Jr., 17, of Hempstead, was seen in a nearby backyard on Martin Luther King Drive. removing a bag containing a handgun from a barbecue just minutes after the car was hit. He was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm and tampering with physical evidence. Police did not indicate that he was the shooter, and had not responded to the Herald’s request for further details about the investigation at press time.
The area of Hempstead where the shooting took place is known for its gang activity, and an area just north was the setting of “The Triangle,” a book by crime reporter Kevin Deutsch, released in 2014, which followed the lives of members of two notorious street gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. The title refers to the intersection of Linden Avenue and Linden Place, one of the epicenters of violence between the two gangs.
“The department has hit the gangs head-on by creating a unit specifically to target gangs in Hempstead and in the Hempstead area,” Sgt. Steven Horowitz, of the Hempstead Village Police Department, said, adding that the unit comprises a sergeant and five police officers, and was added in October. Cameras can be seen on a number of street poles that constantly monitor the area, along with a ShotSpotter system, which can locate the source of gunfire.
Jean Kilduff, whose 9-year-old daughter was also in the car, said she was waiting for her to get home from lacrosse practice when she got a call from a father of one of the other children that the babysitter had been shot.
“As soon as he said it, I knew exactly where it had been,” Kilduff said. “…I know exactly the way she went. I go up that way all the time, and it’s really scary to think about how dangerous it is.”
Kilduff said she had used West Graham often as a shortcut to avoid waiting at traffic lights on Peninsula near Mercy Medical Center, and became aware of the area’s dangers after her husband read “The Triangle.” She said she has told friends to avoid that route. “This happened in broad daylight,” Kilduff said of the shooting. “It wasn’t late at night. It could happen to anybody.”
Rockville Centre Police Detective Tim Seward, a member of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, said that a gang problem was developing in Rockville Centre about a decade ago, but thanks to law enforcement’s focus on large-scale busts to uproot gang members, gang violence in the village today is virtually nonexistent.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t had any spillover at all,” Seward said, referring to the activity in Hempstead. “…But us being so close to them, certainly we always have to keep an eye on them.”
He added that many of the problems are tied to geography, as the gangs fight for territory, and estimated that there are about five hot spots of gang violence in Hempstead.
“I think that we, as Rockville Centre residents, need to be a little more diligent on where we’re going when we’re going into Garden City and the route that we’re taking,” Paesano said. “… I’m sure a lot of people take that road all the time, having no idea of the danger they’re putting themselves in.”
As for the babysitter, she has no intention to drive there anymore.
“I’m sure it won’t happen again, but there are other ways of getting around,” she said. “I wouldn’t take the chance of going down that street again.”