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Jan 28, 2014 2:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Two Charged With Stealing Fire Chief's SUV, Crashing It In Snowbank In Eastport

Jan 28, 2014 4:10 PM

The early Sunday morning heist of a marked fire department SUV sparked a lengthy police chase that spanned three towns and only ended when the alleged thieves slammed the stolen vehicle into a snowbank in Eastport.

Suffolk County Police arrested Raymond Peruggi and Corey Smith, both 23 and from Center Moriches, at around 8 a.m. Sunday when they crashed the stolen vehicle—a 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe belonging to East Moriches Fire Department Chief Bryan Kelly—into a snowbank along Montauk Highway in Eastport, near Tuttle’s Mower Shop, while trying to elude pursuing officers.

Both Mr. Peruggi and Mr. Smith, who authorities said led police from multiple departments on a 41-minute chase that began in Brookhaven Town and continued onto Riverhead Town and Quogue Village in Southampton Town, have been charged with third-degree grand larceny, a felony.

Suffolk County Police have declined to say if it was a high-speed chase, though a public information officer would only say that “nobody here would venture to say that their actions weren’t reckless.” Authorities said Mr. Peruggi was behind the wheel.

Mr. Peruggi and Mr. Smith were arraigned Monday in Riverhead before Suffolk County Justice Paul Hensley and both entered not guilty pleas. Bail was set at $30,000 for Mr. Peruggi and $20,000 for Mr. Smith. Neither had posted bail as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office central records department. Both men were scheduled to return to court on Wednesday.

Police said Mr. Peruggi and Mr. Smith, whom they described as friends, were caught on security footage stealing the running SUV from the parking lot of the Center Moriches Firehouse on Main Street sometime before 1:15 a.m. Sunday, when the vehicle was reported stolen. Volunteer firefighters with the East Moriches outfit were covering for their counterparts in Center Moriches because it was the night of their annual awards dinner, which was being held off-site.

“My guys were protecting their district overnight, so I came in to check in on them,” Chief Kelly said when reached on Sunday afternoon. “They’re my guys, so coffee, a bite to eat, whatever they want, I came to check on them. They’re my guys.”

Chief Kelly explained that as a trained paramedic who works part-time for several districts, in addition to serving as fire chief, he carries oxygen tanks, an Artificial External Defibrillator (AED) and certain drugs in his car. These items, he said, need to be kept at a certain temperature to function properly.

“If I’m not home for the night, I always keep [my vehicle] running. It is a force of habit,” Chief Kelly said. “There isn’t a chief’s car on the island that isn’t left running for long periods of time with the keys in it, because most have the same things. If someone tells you otherwise, they are lying.”

At around 1:15 a.m., Chief Kelly said he got a call to assist as a paramedic, ran outside and discovered that his SUV was gone.

“The cameras caught it all—I mean, it was pretty simple,” he said. “They just jumped in and took it.”

According to County Police, surveillance video from the Center Moriches Firehouse shows the two men entering the vehicle and driving east on Montauk Highway. Suffolk County immediately sent several patrol cars, as well as their aviation units, to canvass the area but were unsuccessful in locating the SUV.

Then at around 7:20 a.m., either an off-duty police officer or firefighter spotted the stolen vehicle on Route 25A in Rocky Point, according to police. Officers then followed the suspects east through Shoreham and Riverhead before turning south into Southampton Town. They made it as far as Quogue Village before turning west and, later, crashing into the snowbank in Eastport.

Mr. Peruggi and Mr. Smith were immediately arrested and transported to the 7th Precinct in Shirley.

No accidents occurred during the chase, and no injuries were reported, according to authorities. Chief Kelly’s Chevrolet Tahoe, however, lost a passenger side tire and also sustained front-end damage after slamming into the snowbank.

As the stolen vehicle crossed over into different jurisdictions, Suffolk County Police notified local departments—Riverhead Town, Southampton Town and Quogue Village police—to assist them in the chase. A county police aviation unit also assisted in the pursuit.

The chase lasted 41 minutes, ending at 8:01 a.m. in Eastport, according Southampton Town Police Sergeant James Cavanagh, who noted that his department was contacted at 7:42 a.m. He added only two police vehicles were in pursuit of the stolen SUV at any given time, as dictated by police protocol. Suffolk County Police had the lead chase vehicle.

“The additional units hang way behind, directed by a dispatcher,” Sgt. Cavanagh said of the throngs of police vehicles that residents reported seeing Sunday morning. “We don’t caravan out of concern for the safety of innocent pedestrians and the people in the stolen car as well. It was only a property crime—we want to keep them safe, too.”

Suffolk County Police said they attempted to use tire deflation devices, otherwise known as “stop sticks,” to disable the vehicle during the pursuit, but they were unsuccessful.

Chief Kelly said his SUV was in pretty bad shape, both inside and out, but that it should be salvageable.

“They were inside the car drinking and they beat it up pretty good,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re just really happy the police did a great job and they kept these maniacs away from people getting hurt. Even though it wouldn’t be our fault necessarily, we would’ve felt awful if something happened.”

Asked if he knew why his car was targeted, besides the fact that it was running, Chief Kelly said: “I don’t know. You’ve got to be pretty crazy to do it ... I wake up in the middle of the night and leave my wife and kids to check on my guys, and next thing I know I’m driving around until 5 a.m. looking for my car.”

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Why was the vehicle unattended with the engine running?
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 26, 14 1:27 PM
you should reread the article again before making ignorant questions.
By jmazz78 (2), East Moriches on Jan 26, 14 6:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
The update to the article, which made it clear why the engine was running, was posted AFTER the comment which you have just criticized.

An apology may be in order?
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 26, 14 6:19 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By jmazz78 (2), East Moriches on Jan 26, 14 8:11 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jan 26, 14 9:17 PM
Well, it was about 4 degrees out at 1am...
By LI native (127), east moriches on Jan 26, 14 3:43 PM
What kind of a derelict steals a Fire Chiefs car?

By Draggerman (942), Southampton on Jan 26, 14 8:01 PM
The same kind that breaks into a police chief's car and steals his gunbelt and his bag.

Article implies alcohol was involved. People really are stupid
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jan 26, 14 8:12 PM
The Chief actually says they were inside the car drinking . . .
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 27, 14 9:32 AM
Okay, I understand leaving the car running, but why wasn't it locked?
By metsfan2 (161), southampton on Jan 26, 14 8:42 PM
how about the names of those arrested
By baymen (26), hamptonbays on Jan 26, 14 9:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
yes, I find it very strange they haven't released the names yet.
By LI native (127), east moriches on Jan 26, 14 10:49 PM
police and fire are exempt from the "no idle" signs
By rjhdad (73), southampton on Jan 27, 14 4:56 AM
This happened yesterday morning on a Sunday, not a business day for most PD support staff, and the Suffolk County PD is the lead agency (not the SHT PD). Guessing more info. will come out today or tomorrow . . .
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 27, 14 6:44 AM
Article updated.
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 27, 14 11:03 AM
Leaving the keys in a running unattended vehicle in this day and age is simply not very smart. Remote start systems that allow you to remove the key and leave the vehicle running are readily available and inexpensive. The one in my truck was $250.00 installed. I can remove the key with the truck running, lock it with the remote and walk away.I believe some can even be set to run the vehicle periodically to keep it warm (or cool in summer).
By bird (824), Southampton on Jan 27, 14 1:14 PM
Give the guy a break he is a volunteer, and doing the best he can. I hope these idiots have to pay for the vehicle and get a couple months in the county jail. We have a serious break down in society, and seem to be going in the wrong direction. Lets legalize pot, crack, cocaine, and any other pile of mind altering crap we can think of. Why do we wonder what is happening to us and we continue our stupid choices?
By chief1 (2790), southampton on Jan 27, 14 6:13 PM
We forgot to thank the hwy dept that piled the snow that finally stopped them .
By Urit (24), Quogue on Jan 27, 14 6:25 PM
Two Mopes steal a chiefs car and you morons are arguing that "victim" is responsible???
By Finley (3), East Hampton on Jan 27, 14 8:14 PM
Article updated for the print edition (blue link at top). Felony grand larceny.
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jan 29, 14 10:45 AM
What a shame to read about this
By LovinLife (61), East Quogue on Jan 29, 14 11:03 AM
My favorite part is that they were heading EAST when spotted and pursued. That's brilliant! A chase all the way out to Montauk would have been great.
By G (339), Southampton on Feb 5, 14 11:36 AM