By Janee Law and Jano Tantongco
Scott Martella, communications director for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, was known as talented, friendly, to be a good person and to always have a big smile.
But Martella, who was killed in a three-car crash that claimed five other lives on Sunday, had an even bigger heart, Bellone said.
“He cared about people and wanted to do good, and that’s a big part of what made him so special as a public servant,” the county executive said in an interview Monday. “We need more people like that in government today.”
Martella, 29, of Northport, was one of six killed in the crash on the Long Island Expressway in Manorville Sunday morning. Five other people were injured in the crash, including Martella’s fiancée, Shelbi Thurau, also of Northport.
Bellone speculated that Martella’s last act of swerving his car, which police said was one of two cars struck by a third car that crossed the grassy median of the expressway, may have saved Thurau’s life. Bellone said this based on his discussions with investigators and Thurau herself, according to county spokeswoman Pam Robinson.
Martella and Thurau, who first met in high school, planned to be married in April 2017.
Martella was born on Sept. 27, 1986 to parents Stacy and Stephen. He is also survived by his two younger siblings, Bryan and Rebecca.
Martella, who grew up in Smithtown, graduated from Smithtown High School in 2005. He then went on to Boston University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international business in 2008.
That same year, at 22 years old, Martella became the youngest person ever elected to Smithtown’s school board. He was named vice president of the board in 2009, and remained on the board until 2011.
Also in 2008, Martella joined the state senate campaign of Democrat Brian Foley, for whom he worked field operations door-to-door. Martella also served as policy advisor for the New York State Senate until 2011.
While he worked for Foley’s campaign, Martella came to know Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee.
Schaffer said he was driving Sunday morning when he got the call with the news of Martella’s death. He pulled into a parking lot and sat there for half an hour, mulling over the news.
“The shock is just setting in,” Schaffer said in an interview Monday. “Yesterday was kind of a blur. Definitely a terrible loss. Not just for a lot of us personally, but also for Suffolk County and Long Island as a region.”
Schaffer continued, “Scott was one of those behind the scene guys, who got a tremendous amount done without any fanfare, or recognition.”
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo was elected in 2010, members of Cuomo’s office asked Schaffer and Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, to present potential candidates for the governor’s Suffolk County representative.
“They wanted three names. We gave them just one,” Schaffer said.
That name was Martella’s, “and it was because we believed he was that good.
“He had a great future.”
Cuomo released a statement Sunday saying Martella was “a dedicated, beloved public servant who worked day in and day out to improve the lives of his fellow New Yorkers.
“Scott was always full of big ideas to help solve the toughest challenges of the day, and he was deeply respected for his strong work ethic, candor and fighting spirit,” Cuomo continued. “Long Island is a better place today because of his service and dedication to the community.”
Martella was promoted in July 2015, beginning a stint as the Long Island Regional Representative for the New York State Department of Labor.
Just this past June, Martella was hired as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s director of communication. Bellone said he knew Martella from his time working for the governor.
The two became close friends in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, as Bellone’s office worked with the state to address various issues. Martella has been cited as having been a key liaison to the governor in the storm’s aftermath.
“Working through all these difficult issues trying to help people, you really get to know a person,” Bellone said. “It was the first time I had a really close opportunity to see what a caring and compassionate person this man was, and how committed he was to public service.”
Bellone added that Martella had an immense amount of talent. The “sky was the limit” for him.
“What I’ve come to know is that this is a beautiful family, is very close knit and loving, and it’s not surprising to me that they produced somebody like Scott,” Bellone continued.
Martella was also very well known within the Town of Huntington.
Bob Scheiner, chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, who also knew Martella through his time working for Cuomo, said he was shocked to hear the news.
“It’s a terrible shock, such a young man, who loved public service,” Scheiner said. “His help with regard to getting the governor involved with Long Island issues was incredibly productive and it helped us in the chamber have to have an ear when we had issues that might be contrary to what the state government was proposing.”
On Tuesday, hundreds set out to mourn Martella at I.J. Morris Funeral Home in Dix Hills. A line of mourners spilled out of the funeral home and onto the sidewalk along E Deer Park Road as they waited to pay their respects.
Attending the funeral, Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he felt a “deep sense of personal loss” when he learned of Martella’s death.
Spencer called Martella a “bright star,” and said he’d often see him representing Cuomo at various events.
“When I heard the news, it was just a sense of disbelief. It knocked the breath out of me,” he said. “He was someone that at such a young age has accomplished so much.”
Eric Alexander, director of Northport-based downtown planning group Vision Long Island, said he would frequently see Martella park his Honda in the lot near his office. He noticed his car wasn’t there on Sunday. When he saw photos of the accident before the victims’ names were released, he realized one of the vehicles was Martella’s.
“It’s sick. This shouldn’t have happened. I don’t get it. He gave so much to so many people,” Alexander said.
He said he worked with Martella on various issues, including securing funding for infrastructure and crafting legislation. Martella “was always quietly finding ways to connect people to do good things,” Alexander said.
Rev. Thomas Humphrey, of Amityville, also attended the funeral. He also worked with Martella when he was still with Cuomo’s office.
“He was someone that always called the churches. What he did with me, he always called me as a leader of the churches and the community,” Humphrey said.
He explained that Martella did something he thought was “very unique.” He would sit Humphrey next to the governor in the front row at events.
“The governor here, and I’m right with the governor,” he said. “He wanted everybody to be together. That spoke volumes to me.”
Humphrey continued, “Scott reached out to the whole community, the whole village, for one purpose only: To bring all people together.”
A memorial fund has been set up to help support the Martella family. Donations can be made at Scottmartella.com.