Driver in Fatal Long Island Crash Is Charged With Drunken Driving

WSJ

 

By CORINNE RAMEY and  JOE JACKSON

Updated July 19, 2015 11:31 p.m. ET

 

The driver of a pickup truck involved in an accident Saturday on eastern Long Island that killed four young women was charged with drunken driving Sunday, as details emerged about ongoing community concern over growing traffic in that area.

The truck’s driver, Steven Romeo, 55 years old, of Southold, was arraigned in his room at Eastern Long Island Hospital, said Elizabeth Miller, assistant district attorney with the vehicular-crime bureau in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Mr. Romeo pleaded not guilty, said his attorney, Daniel O’Brien.

Bail was set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond, Ms. Miller said.

The crash on Route 48 occurred when Mr. Romeo’s pickup truck hit the side of the limousine that eight women were riding in, according to the Southold Town Police Department.

The limousine had just made a U-turn near Vineyard 48, a winery in Cutchogue, on Long Island’s North Fork, police said.

Shortly before the crash, the women in the limousine apparently had visited Vineyard 48. They were celebrating a coming wedding, and the bride survived, said Ms. Miller.

Officials declined to say where Mr. Romeo had been before the crash.

The four passengers who died all lived in Suffolk County. Officials identified them asBrittany M. Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, both of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack.

The four survivors were taken to nearby hospitals. They were identified by the Southold Police Department as Joelle M. Dimonte, 25, of Elwood; Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale; Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket; and Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn. Limousine driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, was taken to the hospital as well, police said. Their conditions couldn’t be confirmed on Sunday.

Ms. Arundel, Ms. Crai and Ms. Lipets were studying speech-language pathology at Lehman College in the Bronx, according to Facebook profiles.

According to Ms. Grabina’s Facebook page, she recently had begun working as an accountant in the Tallahassee, Fla., offices of accounting firm Ernst & Young. An Ernst & Young spokeswoman couldn’t immediately confirm Ms. Grabina’s employment.

Witness Tim Webb said he came upon the scene about 30 seconds after the crash and immediately called 911.

The red pickup truck was embedded inside the limousine, he said, and the women in the back were silent.

“You would expect screaming and shouting and terror, and it was dead silent,” he said. “I was a Navy corpsman years ago, and I saw lots of trauma, but I’ve never seen anything as horrific as this tragedy.”

Traffic near Vineyard 48 has been a subject of local concern.

Beth Shipman, who lives across the street from Vineyard 48, said the volume of traffic from party buses and limousines has been growing since 2010 and has reached what she described as “unsustainable levels.”

Party buses and limousines leaving the winery make U-turns, halting local traffic, she complained.

“This is something we have brought to [Southold] officials—not just myself, but my neighbors,” she said. “We all kind of thought this was inevitable at some point.”

Asked about traffic issues around Vineyard 48, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said it wasn’t the time to discuss the issue. “This is a community still reeling from a tragedy,” he said.

On Sunday, several stretch limousines were parked in the front lot of Vineyard 48. Several people could be seen and heard enjoying themselves.

“Our sentiments go out to the girls and their families,” said a bartender at the winery, who declined to give his name.

Later in the day, staff directed questions about the incident to Vineyard 48’s attorney, Peter Sullivan, who said only that his client was “devastated.”

Richard Stabile, founder of Long Island Spirits, said he took notice of the group when he and his family had stopped by the distillery around noon.

“They made such a memorable impression on us,” he said. “They were a beautiful group and seemed to be having so much fun, laughing and enjoying a wonderful day out with friends.”

—Chris Francescani and Mozes Zarate contributed to this article.

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