4 women ID'd after fatal limo crash; driver charged with DWI

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Monday, July 20, 2015
Long Island man pleads not guilty to DWI in limo crash that killed 4
NJ Burkett has the story.

CUTCHOGUE, N.Y. -- Investigators said Monday the driver of a pickup truck tried to walk away from the scene after colliding with a limousine in a crash that killed four women on Long Island.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said the driver, 55-year old Steven Romeo, stayed at the scene for 15 minutes, then was seen walking away.

He got about 1,000 feet, climbed over a fence and down an embankment, Spota said, and initially kept walking after a police officer told him to stop, but eventually stopped and was administered a field sobriety test.

Romeo, of Southold, pleaded not guilty Sunday to driving while intoxicated after his pickup truck crashed into the limousine carrying eight young women, killing four.

The group was returning from a nearby winery in Cutchogue on Saturday afternoon after reportedly celebrating a birthday.

Their driver was trying to make a U-turn at an intersection along Route 48 when the pickup slammed into the limo, authorities said. In the mangled metal and glass wreckage, four of the women survived and were hospitalized, along with both drivers.

The limo driver told police he didn't see the pickup truck coming when he made the turn. He agreed to allow officers test him for intoxication, and all tests came back negative.

Romeo was arraigned Sunday at his hospital bedside at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

He was arraigned on one misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated and ordered held on $500,000 cash bail or $1 million bond. He is to appear in court on Friday. The charges are expected to be upgraded.

Chief Martin Flatley of Southold identified the dead as Brittney M. Schulman, 23, of Smithtown, on Long Island's North Shore; Lauren Baruch, 24, also of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of nearby Kings Park; and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack, also on the North Shore.

"As a family, we're obviously devastated by the loss of my daughter," said Steven Baruch, his voice choking up at times as he spoke by phone about his daughter, Lauren Baruch. "We loved her more than anything. Now I have to bury my daughter."

When medics arrived to the scene Saturday, three of the women were trapped inside the limo, and were found dead. Another was pronounced dead at Peconic Bay Medical Center.

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Four other women were taken to area hospitals. Both the limo driver and the pickup truck driver suffered injuries, but they were not life-threatening. The police chief said Saturday's crash was "one of the worst accidents I've ever seen."

Carlos Pino, the limo driver works for Ultimate Class Limousine. On Sunday, the company issued a statement saying, "This was a tragic accident, on what should have been a happy day for a group of young women."

As for Romeo, he is the owner of a full-service boating company on Long Island. He has also been in trouble with the law before. In January 2014, he was operating a piece of construction equipment, but wasn't properly trained. A bucket fell off and fatally struck a worker. A suit is pending in that case.

His lawyer, Dan O'Brien, offered condolences and said his client had remained at the crash scene. "It's a tough situation," O'Brien said.

Police said there have been problems with limousines at that intersection over the last few years.

(Some information from the Associated Press.)