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Trespasser injured in fall at abandoned factory accuses town of negligence

A Lake Ronkonkoma man who was injured after falling about 20 feet through a collapsed floor at an abandoned factory building in East Marion factory is claiming that both Southold Town and Suffolk County were negligent in securing the property, contributing to his injuries.

On March 8, Vincent Inzone, 20, and another 20-year-old Lake Ronkonkoma man were on the second floor of the former oyster factory when the floor beneath them gave way, causing them to fall to a cement surface below. Southold Town police said in a press release following the incident. Emergency crews responded at approximately 12:17 a.m. and Mr. Inzone was flown to Stony Brook University Hospital, according to police.

Mr. Inzone contends that the town and county were “negligent in that they were aware that the public frequented such premises and that such premises were hazardous, unsafe and dangerous,” according to a notice of claim the town received June 1. He asserts that he sustained “severe injuries,” including fractures, bruises, nerve damage and neurological impairment, as well as emotional and mental anguish, as a result of the dangerous conditions, according to the claim.

The claim points to a Dec. 4, 2007, Town Board resolution that ordered the property owner, Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer, to make the grounds and building safe for the public. The town directed the owner to complete the work within 45 days, according to the resolution. That work included maintaining a six-foot perimeter chain link fence surrounding the premises and sealing all first-floor openings, as well as demolishing and removing a collapsed portion of a structure at the site, according to the resolution.

In the event the owner did not complete the work in that time period, the resolution said, the town would take on the task — but the notice of claim states that neither party performed the work.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said in an interview that the town took action several times to make sure the owner ordered the work to get done and to continuously repair the perimeter fence, which he said was regularly cut open by trespassers.

“The problem is kids cut through fencing, so we do what we can,” he said, noting that it’s not clear if Mr. Inzone cut through the perimeter. “Basically the court case says we didn’t do enough to protect him from himself. That’s both ironic and full of unmitigated gall.”

Mr. Russell said the town building inspector would send code enforcement to the site whenever it was known that the fencing was not secure or had been cut open. In those instances, the town sent a notice to have it fixed, which it was, he said. He added that the fencing covered a large perimeter, with double fencing in spots, and given that some areas were blocked from view of the general public, holes were not always noticeable.

“I will assure everybody that we are in the process of pursuing every legal option to finally bring this [building’s] danger to an end,” the supervisor said. The town has engaged an attorney to pursue legal action and will discuss the action it will take in the near future, he said.

Mr. Inzone is seeking compensatory damages, according to the claim. Mr. Inzone’s attorney, Anthony Crasto of Crasto and Associates, P.C. said in an interview he was unaware if any charges had been filed against his client following the incident.

The deteriorating former oyster factory has been eyed as the potential site of different ventures over the years. In 2003, owner Dr. Hillyer, a resident of New York City, first proposed a holistic center called Shizen Hotel Wellness Center and Spa, known locally as the Oki-Do. The project, after being submitted for a second time, was rejected by the Planning Board last year.

Dr. Hillyer said Tuesday she is considering having the existing structure torn down, but wants to be sure something can be built in its place. She is “thinking of all kinds of things” to potentially do with the property, she said, but added that she could not yet say what. No applications have been submitted to the town, she confirmed.

Meanwhile, aquaculture company Aqquua still lists the East Marion property as a potential site for a sustainable fish farm. Aqquua representatives did not respond to a request for comment, but town planning department officials confirmed there are no current applications for a fish farm.

Photo credit: Kelly Zegers

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