A Peconic man charged with driving drunk when he allegedly crashed his pickup truck into a limousine, killing four women touring the North Fork over the weekend, may face additional counts, authorities said.
Steven Romero pleaded not guilty Sunday to driving whole intoxicated during an arraignment that was held at his bedside at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, where he remained hospitalized under the watch of a Suffolk County deputy sheriff.
“In the last week we have surely experienced some of the most tragic losses of life due to apparently intoxicated drivers that we’ve ever seen…in the county of Suffolk,” District Attorney Thomas Spota told reporters Monday during a news conference in Southold.
The fatal crash came six days after an allegedly drunk driver crashed into a car on the Southern State Parkway in Bay Shore, killing a man and his two children. His wife, the kids’ mother, escaped the fiery wreck while the suspect allegedly fled the scene in a vehicle driven by his friend, who was also arrested later and pleaded not guilty.
At about 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Romeo, 55, was driving a red pickup truck westbound on County Road 48, prosecutors said, when he crashed into a black limo that was making a U-turn at the corner of Depot Lane in Cutchogue after it had just left Vineyard 48.
The four women killed in the crash were identified as Brittany Schulman and Lauren Baruch, both of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, of Kings Park; and Amy Grabina, of Commack. All were 23 except Baruch, who was 24. Three were pronounced dead at the scene, and the fourth died at an East End hospital.
Four other women riding in the limo were injured and remain hospitalized. They were identified as Joelle Dimonte, 25, of Elwood; Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale; Alicia Arundel, of Setauket; and Olga Lipets, of Brooklyn, both 24.
According to Spota, the women had taken a limo from Baruch’s house to a vodka distillery on the North Fork Wine Trail. Then they stopped at Vineyard 48 before getting back in the limo to return home. The district attorney noted that they were “behaving responsibly” by taking a limo and not driving drunk. He could not confirm widespread media reports that the women were participating in a bachelorette party.
When Carlos Pino, 58, the limo driver working for Ultimate Class Limousine in Hicksville, left the vineyard, he was forced to turn right, heading eastbound, because of a median in the roadway, officials added. Pino was turning the limo around at Depot Lane, where one witness reportedly saw the impact as it happened, according to investigators.
Martin Flatley, chief of the Southold Town Police Department, said his officers issue up to a dozen traffic tickets monthly to limo drivers making illegal U-turns–in which limo drivers improperly back up, blocking traffic in the area. But it’s unclear if Pino was making a prohibited U-turn or a legal one at the time of the crash.
Pino reportedly told investigators that he didn’t see the truck coming. He passed drug and alcohol tests, Spota said.
Romeo stayed at the scene for 15 minutes and spoke to several responding officers before he allegedly walked away and climbed over a nearby six-foot-high fence. Then an officer ordered him to stop, Spota said. Romeo allegedly ignored the first order to stop, but then complied, the district attorney added.
Spota said Romeo allegedly told police that he drank several beers before the crash, but investigators are awaiting blood and alcohol tests to determine his exact blood-alcohol content.
Both Pino and Romeo have no prior arrests on their records, authorities said. Romeo, the co-owner of Romeo Dimon Marine Service in Southold, is reportedly being sued for a work-place death, but authorities said there was no criminality involved in that case.
Spota added that it’s unclear if any new charges will be filed against Romeo because the investigation is still in its preliminary stages.
A Southold town judge set bail for Romeo at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond. Suffolk County police and New York State police are assisting Southold police and Suffolk prosecutors in the ongoing investigation.