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4 women killed in limo crash with suspected drunk driver

Steven Romeo, co-owner of Southold-based Romeo Dimon Marine

Steven Romeo, co-owner of Southold-based Romeo Dimon Marine Services, pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge related to driving the pickup truck that crashed into a limousine in Cutchogue on July 18, 2015, killing four women. Photo Credit: Romeo Dimon Marine Service; Randee Daddona

The four women who died Saturday when a pickup truck collided with a limousine in Cutchogue all lived in Smithtown, police reported Sunday.

Brittney M. Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, both of Smithtown, Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack, died in the crash. They were in the limo with four other women who were injured: Joelle M. Dimonte, 25, of Elwood, Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket, Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn and Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale, police reported.

Their celebration started Saturday at Baruch's home, her father said. The limo picked the women up at Baruch's Smithtown house, he said, adding that some of their cars are still parked at the house.

Schulman's mother, Suzanne Schulman, said Sunday her daughter was "a caring person" but declined to talk further.

Arundel and Lipets were in "fair" condition at Stony Brook University Hospital last night, according to media relations representative Greg Filiano.

Also injured in the crash were limo driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, and Steven Romeo, 55, the driver of the pickup truck.

Romeo, co-owner of Southold-based Romeo Dimon Marine Services, pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge related to driving the pickup truck that crashed into a limousine in Cutchogue Saturday evening, killing four women.

Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Elizabeth Miller said after Romeo's hospital bedside arraignment that the investigation into the wreck was continuing and charges likely would be upgraded. Romeo was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail or $1 million bond.

Romeo pleaded not guilty to the charge, said his attorney, Dan O'Brien, who offered condolences to the victims and said Romeo did not leave the scene of the wreck. His next appearance is scheduled for Friday at Southold Town Court. Miller did not disclose where Romeo was going to or coming from.

The limo passengers were "a group of women out celebrating an upcoming event," Miller said. Earlier reports indicated they were part of a bachelorette party. Miller said "there was a bride," and she survived the wreck.

Neither Romeo, who remained hospitalized at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, nor his business partner Kris Dimon could be reached Sunday. Their marine services business was closed on Sunday.

The North Fork intersection where the crash occurred has long been a worry to residents because of the convergence of U-turning vineyard limousines and oncoming traffic on the rural road. Four bouquets of flowers had been placed in the roadway median at the crash site on Sunday.

The four women were killed as their limo left Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue, police said.

The crash occurred about 5 p.m. at the intersection of Depot Lane and Route 48, police said. Three women died at the scene and one died at a hospital, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said.

Flatley said the limousine was trying to make a U-turn to head west on Route 48 at the crossroads, which has two yellow flashing caution lights going east and west. There are red flashing lights heading north and south on Depot Lane.

The limo's passenger side was smashed by the red pickup truck, which was heading west on Route 48. It was not known if the limousine cut in front of truck, Flatley said.

"He [the pickup driver] hit the brakes right before and he broadsided the limo right on the passenger side," he said.

The pickup driver ran from the crash scene, but police arrested him nearby and charged him with driving while intoxicated, authorities said. Though police did not release his name, they said he is a resident of the North Fork.

William Rule, 64, was among those dropping off bouquets of flowers at the crash scene. He picked lilies from his garden in Riverhead, he said.

He said he did not know the victims but felt the tragedy was "so horrific" he needed to contribute to the growing memorial.

"This traditionally had been a quiet area, not very busy," he said of the North Fork's vineyard area, but noted it has become "built up and more of an attraction."

"With progress comes problems," Rule said.

Residents say limos on vineyard tours make dangerous U-turns near the intersection where Vineyard 48 empties out onto Route 48 at Depot Lane.

Bill Shipman, who lives directly across the street from Vineyard 48, said residents have complained about limos backing into traffic on Route 48 to complete their turns.

He said the town has added flashing lights and changed the traffic pattern to direct limos to turn left on Depot Lane instead of making a U-turn on Route 48, but many drivers don't follow the directions.

"This is the thing we've complained about since 2010 and it still goes on every week," Shipman said. "They block the lanes of traffic and back up to make their turns. It's a disaster. I've said a limo is going to get T-boned here."

Shipman said he told Southold officials, "If you don't address this, you'll have a fatality in a limo."

Another resident, Michael Eckhardt, was attending a family gathering near the crash scene. He said several drivers have been ticketed for making illegal turns. He advocated adding a full-stop light at the intersection.

"There's not enough room to make a U-turn," Eckhardt said. "You think you're all safe renting a limo and then -- boom."

A driver passing by the crash Saturday evening, Ted Webb, 76, of Orient, said he called 911 as he jumped out of his car and ran to the limo.

But then he looked into the back of the limo and saw two women wearing black dresses.

"They looked like they were in a state of shock. They weren't screaming or shouting," he said. "They're sitting in the back and they saw what happened directly in front of them."

Webb said he didn't see anyone in the middle seat of the limo, "But I realize now, [that was] because the front end of the pickup truck was embedded into the limo."

"They had to die instantly. There was no noise. No screaming no shouting," Webb said.

Three women were declared dead inside the limousine. Two others were flown by helicopters to Stony Brook University Hospital and two were taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where one died and the other was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The drivers, including the one arrested, were taken to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

Route 48, which is one of the main North Fork thoroughfares, was closed both ways from Mattituck to Southold because of the crash.

"This is one of the worst accidents I've ever seen," Flatley said.

Lynne Lulfs of Hampton Bays said she pulled up next to the crash immediately after it happened. As she and her husband passed the limo, she said she could see three women hanging out the left side of the limo.

Several other drivers rushed to the limo passengers' aid before police and firefighters arrived. Lulfs said she saw a man sitting in the back of the pickup, shaken and drinking water. Police said he ran away before they arrived.

"We're real sick about it," Lulfs said.

"It's just a tragedy. They were celebrating a wonderful milestone, then to have this tragedy in their lives," Lulfs said. "To witness such a tragedy ... N> one minute of celebration and death the next, is so hard to comprehend."

This was the second multi-fatal crash on Long Island this past week. Early last Sunday, a Toyota driven by Ancio Ostane, 37, of St. Albans, Queens, was rear-ended by an alleged drunken driver on the Southern State Parkway. Ostane and his children, Andy, 8, and Sephora, 4 were killed.


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