A dark shadow of tragedy was cast over the normally festive Memorial Day weekend in Hampton Bays after a young man was fatally stabbed to death in the parking lot of a popular eatery in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
According to the Suffolk County police department's homicide squad, a fight in the parking lot of the Hampton Bays Diner, located on West Montauk Highway, ended in a fatality at approximately 4 AM Sunday morning after Riverhead resident Calvin Butts, 26, was stabbed multiple times.
Police were called to the scene after a 911 caller reported a group of men were fighting in the parking lot. When police arrived, they found Butts, of Booker Drive, lying in the parking lot in a pool of blood. He was transported by ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where he died.
The incident allegedly may have been gang-related, according to reports.
According to Maria Vlahadamis, owner of the Hampton Bays Diner, her husband Frank and son James were present at the time of the tragedy. "It all happened outside – nothing happened inside the diner," she said.
Vlahadamis said a crowd of men, as many as 20, were involved in the melee, all "attacking one fellow."
Although no one in the diner saw the actual stabbing, Vlahadamis said some diners ran out to try and help in the wake of the attack.
The town and the diner have been sparring over the late night use of the eatery, which includes loud music and throngs of people. Neighbors have also complained about the noise. The fact that the establishment is frequented by Latinos and blacks has also been a sore spot for some residents.
Vlahadamis said she thinks those involved in the attack may have come from the nearby Whitehouse nightclub. "The police were called there earlier. After the bars close at 4 AM, many of them do come to eat."
All of those involved in the attack, said Vlahadamis, were black.
Despite catering to the bar crowd after clubs close, Vlahadamis said disputes are infrequent and normally handled and dispersed. "Nothing as traumatic as this has ever happened here. This has devastated my husband, son, and me – emotionally, it's taken its toll on us."
The tragedy, she said, is indicative of the changing face of the Hamptons. "Unfortunately, we're getting a different crowd and element that's never been in Hampton Bays before. The Whitehouse runs hip hop nights, and you tend to get a different element. People just don't think – there are no morals. How can you attack someone like that? Do something like that? This has been very traumatic for my family – horrible."
Business was also impacted; the diner was closed from approximately 4 to 11 AM. "We lost business – it's Memorial Day weekend," she said. Business during the rest of the weekend was steady, but "a little down," said Vlahadamis, who said that might be attributed to the economic downturn.
Vlahadamis said the diner's bar, which caters to a Latino crowd, "has not been an issue" and is not related to the violence. "Automatically, people start saying that," she said. "But this was a different element, a different crowd – it had nothing to do with the bar in the back."
Although the bar has been open for some time, Vlahadamis said customers are "regulars that my husband knows."
Drinking is the common denominator, Vlahadamis believes. "When people drink – I don't care who you are or what nationality, everyone acts up. It's something you can never control."
Vlahadamis said even the crowd of upper class "city kids" drinks, too. That's why, she said, in the past after local clubs closed, bouncers would come to the diner and "keep an eye on things."
As for reports of gang violence Bob Desena, founder of Council for Unity, an organization aimed at fighting gang activity that has taken root and thrived in Riverhead, said any increase in gang violence is attributed to the economy and the rash of racial conflicts sparked by the murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero in East Patchogue last year. Desena said when CFU was initially funded by District Attorney Tom Spota, "He said the one area where he foresaw the greatest potential for this kind of violence was the East End. Now his prediction came true."
Neither the East Hampton nor Southampton school districts embraced the CFU program, which has played a role in dramatically combating gang activity in Riverhead.
Meanwhile, in Riverhead, relatives of Butts are mourning his death. One 14-year-old cousin remembers him as an aspiring artist who once had his work displayed at the Phillips Avenue School. "He was really nice," she said.
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