Courts

Javon Harrington. Photo from PIO

Suffolk County Police arrested a man in Selden Feb. 11 for driving under the influence of drugs after a two-vehicle crash.

Javon Harrington was operating a 2003 Infiniti on North Evergreen Drive at a high speed when he went through a stop sign at Pine Street and struck a 2009 Dodge, and then a tree. Harrington, 20, of Coram, and his passengers Elijah Quinitchette, 24, of Coram and Eddie Bray, 20, of Coram were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via Selden Fire Department Ambulance. Bray suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. Harrington and Quinitchette suffered minor injuries.

The 19-year-old man driving the Dodge, and his two passengers, were also transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via Selden Fire Department Ambulance for observation.

Sixth Squad detectives arrested Harrington and charged him with driving while ability impaired by drugs. He was scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip Feb. 12.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks and the investigation is ongiong.

A beware of dog sign outside Peter Connelly’s home in Rocky Point. He was the owner of the pit bulls involved in last summer’s attacks. Photo from Matt Tuthill

In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.

Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”

—Matt Tuthill

The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.

The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.

Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.

Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”

He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”

Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.

“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”

“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

—Emily Pines

Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.

He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.

“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”

Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.

“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”

While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.

“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”

In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”

The new policy will be in effect immediately.

A violent dispute between two homeless men left one with a gunshot wound, and the other in court.

Alain Jean mugshot from SCPD
Alain Jean mugshot from SCPD

Alain Jean, 22, charged with shooting a homeless man in Port Jefferson Station on June 11, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and criminal possession of a weapon when he was arraigned at Suffolk County District Court in Riverhead on Tuesday, according to his attorney and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

“He vehemently denies these allegations,” Jean’s Hauppauge-based attorney Donald Mates said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He can’t wait to get his story out there to explain what really happened.”

Jean’s bail was set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond, according to a spokesman for Spota. Mates said his client wasn’t able to make bail as of Tuesday.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Jean shot the 22-year-old victim multiple times shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Union Street, which is between Hallock Avenue and Route 25A, and the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Port Jefferson Station.

The victim was treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital. A spokesman for Spota said the weapon used in the shooting was a .22 caliber revolver.

Jean’s next court date is July 26.

Port Jefferson Village is crafting its budget for next year. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson residents shook up the village court on Tuesday night, voting for a new justice to take over the bench.

Tara Higgins is the new village justice. Photo from the candidate
Tara Higgins is the new village justice. Photo from the candidate

In addition to re-electing Trustees Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller, who were running unopposed, to their positions on the village board in this week’s election, voters chose attorney Tara Higgins to serve out the three years remaining on the term of former Justice Peter Graham, who died in office late last year shortly after being re-elected to his judgeship — and after more than 30 years of service.

Candidate Bill Glass had been appointed to serve in Graham’s place until an election could be held, but he lost his bid for re-election, with only 330 votes to Higgins’ 390 votes.

A third challenger, attorney Scott Zamek, garnered just 158 votes.

The defeat is a repeat for Glass, who also lost a try for the village bench against Graham in 2011.

Higgins, a 50-year-old East Setauket native, has lived in Port Jefferson for 18 years. Her connection to the village goes further back: the Tara Inn pub uptown, owned by her father, was named for her.

Tara Higgins: 390 votes
Bill Glass: 330 votes
Scott Zamek: 158 votes

A graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law, she works at Islandia-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP, where she does municipal defense work and civil defense litigation.

The unopposed trustees, D’Abramo and Miller, secured their fourth and second terms, respectively.

Miller has listed his goals for a new term as pushing for the Port Jefferson power plant to be upgraded, to keep it a viable form of energy and property tax revenue; making the village more energy-efficient; and strengthening the power grid in Port Jefferson to better withstand storms. For his part, D’Abramo wants to revitalize the uptown area and improve the village’s infrastructure.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

By Elana Glowatz

Justice will be served during the Port Jefferson government election later this month, with three people vying to be a village judge.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass
Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

There are three years remaining on the term of former Village Justice Peter Graham, a judge of more than 30 years who died in office late last year, just months after being re-elected to his position on the bench. Bill Glass, the man appointed to fill in until the next election, is running to be returned to the seat and faces challenges from residents Tara Higgins and Scott Zamek.

Glass, 61, decided to run “because I really enjoy the job and I’d like to keep doing it.”

The lifelong resident, who also has volunteered with the Port Jefferson Fire Department for more than four decades, has a private law practice in the village through which he represents fire and emergency medical service groups throughout Suffolk County.

He graduated from Fordham Law School and once filled the roles of village prosecutor, village attorney and village trustee. He was also previously an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked under village Trustee Larry LaPointe in the Rackets Bureau.

Glass tried to win a village justice seat in 2011, but voters re-elected Graham.

People should vote for the married father of three this time because “I feel like I know the village inside and out,” he said. He has vast experience in criminal procedure law, which is a “key ingredient” in the village court. “I think that I’m … uniquely qualified for the position.”

Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

Higgins grew up in East Setauket and moved to Port Jefferson 18 years ago, when she got married. The 50-year-old, who graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, said she spent time in defense litigation for an insurance company before moving on to Islandia-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP. She does municipal defense work and civil defense litigation for that firm.

“I just thought that it was a natural progression in my career,” she said about running for village justice. “I’ve tried cases, I’ve written appellate briefs and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Voters should choose her because she is experienced in the courtroom, she said.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the courthouse,” Higgins said. “There are plenty of lawyers who never see the inside of a courtroom.”

The married mother of two high school kids, whose father named the Tara Inn pub in uptown Port Jefferson after her, said, “I’m hardworking, honest, fair and think I’ve got a good temperament for the position.”

Zamek grew up in the village, graduating from the local high school, and returned with his wife to raise his three daughters in Port Jefferson.

Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

The 55-year-old graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and has a private practice in Hauppauge where he focuses on transactional real estate. He explained that he represents landlords and developers with buying, selling and borrowing transactions.

He decided to run for justice because he’s always wanted to be a judge and has always been involved with the community, including working summer jobs for the highway department, volunteering with youth sports, helping out with the Port Jefferson arts council and, for the last two decades, serving with the Royal Educational Foundation.

“I think it’s time for me to step up a little bit,” Zamek said. He wants to give back to the village because “I feel that’s something everybody should do. … I want to do what I can to make it as good of a place as possible.”

Voting is at the Port Jefferson Village Center on June 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Also on the ballot will be two trustee seats, for which the incumbents are running unopposed for re-election. Bruce Miller is running for his second term on the board and Bruce D’Abramo is running for his fourth.

Thomas Datre Jr. photo from SCPD

The St. James man accused of illegally dumping tens of thousands of tons of contaminated construction debris in Suffolk County pleaded guilty to felony charges of endangering the environment this week, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said.

Thomas Datre Jr., 42, has been on trial since Feb. 23 for the alleged incident, which dated back to 2013 and 2014. He stood on trial with his father Thomas Datre Sr. and four family-operated companies charged with dumping thousands of tons of contaminated construction debris at four locations in western Suffolk County, and pleaded guilty March 30 to four felony charges of endangering the public health, safety or the environment in the third degree. He will be sentenced to up to three years in an upstate prison and must also cleanup the damaged land, Spota said.

According to the terms of the plea, Datre Jr. is responsible for the restoration of Roberto Clemente Town Park in Brentwood to an active playground, soccer field and recreational facility for Brentwood residents, the district attorney said. Datre Jr. is also financially and otherwise responsible for the cleanup and remediation of the environmentally fragile wetlands area on the Islip-Babylon town border in Deer Park and a lot at the corner of Sage Street and Islip Avenue in Central Islip, Spota said.

Datre Jr.’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Dangerous toxins, including dieldrin, asbestos and other contaminants classified as “acutely hazardous” or “hazardous” were detected in the dumped debris. Spota said the dumping investigation, which began in April of 2014, uncovered a scheme “based in greed that left Suffolk County with an environmental catastrophe.”

“Before the defendant is sentenced, he will clean up at his expense the properties he dumped debris on,” Spota said. “Mr. Datre will report on his progress with the cleanup to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the court and the district attorney’s office.”

Datre Jr. also pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges of operating a solid waste management facility without a permit. The sentences on those convictions will be served concurrently, the DA said.

The charges in the indictment against Datre Sr. were dismissed in satisfaction of the plea of Datre Jr. In addition to Datre Jr.’s guilty plea the family-run business, 5 Brothers Farming Corp., pleaded guilty to four counts of endangering the environment in the third degree, one felony plea per each of four sites where New York City building rubble was dumped in Suffolk.

Datre Jr.’s co-defendant, Christopher Grabe of Islandia Recycling, also pleaded guilty to two felony charges of endangering the environment and two misdemeanor charges of operating a solid waste management facility without a permit.

Spota said Grabe, for his role in the dumping of debris at Clemente Town Park in Brentwood and at the Route 111 site in Central Islip will be sentenced to up to six months in jail and five years’ probation.

Grabe also pleaded guilty to a tax fraud felony filed by the district attorney’s Tax Crimes Unit in March of last year. Grabe, 38, “from 2011 through 2013 failed to report about $885,000 of income to New York State, resulting in evasion of approximately $57,000 in income taxes, “ Spota said.

That defendant is now required to pay the unpaid taxes.

In a separate investigation and indictment, Datre Sr. and Clara Datre, representing Daytree at Cortland Square Inc. before Justice Fernando Camacho, acknowledged the firm’s failure to pay prevailing wages to its workers performing tree and stump removal for the Town of Islip. For the plea to the misdemeanor charge failure to pay the prevailing wage, 13 workers employed by Daytree at Cortland Square Inc. will be paid by the company approximately $90,000 in wages that they did not receive while working on the town contract.

Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted out of the 3rd Precinct on his way to arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon

The Huntington Station man convicted of attempted murder of a police officer was sentenced in Riverhead on Monday morning to 55 years to life in prison, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said.

A jury convicted Sheldon Leftenant, 23, of attempted aggravated murder, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and resisting arrest on Jan. 26. On Monday, a judge sentenced him to 40 years to life on the attempted murder charge and 15 years to life on the weapons charge.

Spota said he was pleased with the sentence for Leftenant, who authorities have said is a member of the “Tip Top Boyz” street gang.

Police officer Mark Collins speaks after the sentencing of the Huntington Station man who shot him twice. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Police officer Mark Collins speaks after the sentencing of the Huntington Station man who shot him twice. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“I think the judge said it best, that this is a man who deserves absolutely no mercy,” he said. “He has no regard for human life. He certainly, on the evening of this occurrence, had no regard for the life of police officer [Mark] Collins and he deserved the maximum. I hope and I trust that he spends every single day of the remainder of his life in jail because that is where he belongs.”

Related: Leftenant pleads not guilty to attempted murder of police officer

Just before midnight on March 12, 2015, Collins, a 13-year veteran of the Suffolk County Police Department, pulled over a speeding car in which Leftenant was a passenger near Mercer Court in Huntington Station. Collins, a plainclothes member of the 2nd Precinct gang unit, ordered Leftenant to exit the vehicle before the suspect started running, forcing the officer to chase him. Collins deployed his Taser twice on Leftenant, hitting him in the back. As the officer tried to handcuff the man, unaware of his suspect’s weapon, there was a struggle and Leftenant shot Collins twice — once in the neck and once in the hip.

Leftenant fled and was soon apprehended.

Collins survived the gunshot wounds. From the courthouse, he reacted to the Huntington Station man’s sentencing.

“I’m just happy to be here and be back to work and live a healthy life again,” Collins said.

He thanked everyone from his fellow officers to the staff at Stony Brook University Hospital for their help and support.

“I still have some lingering side effects but I am not going to let them hold me back. I have a whole different outlook on life, and a lot of things mean a lot more to me these days and I am happy to be here.”

Sheldon Leftenant's wife Angelica said her husband is innocent after the sentencing on Monday. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Sheldon Leftenant’s wife Angelica said her husband is innocent after the sentencing on Monday. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

He also said he was satisfied with Leftenant’s sentence.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the case highlights the importance of the county supporting their law enforcement officials.

“Suffolk County will not stand for violence against our law enforcers,” he said after the sentencing. “It is that simple.”

Leftenant’s wife Angelica said she believes her husband did not have a fair chance in the case, saying that despite the verdict, he is not guilty.

“Sheldon Leftenant is innocent and we will prove that in an appeal,” she said. “Sheldon will be walking home on an appeal. I laughed [when I heard he was sentenced to 55 years] because he’s coming home. My husband will be walking home next to me. [The] case is going to be dropped.”

Robert Biancavilla, the deputy homicide bureau chief within the DA’s office, disagreed.

“Mr. Leftenant could not have been given a more fair trial in this case,” he said. “Everyone basically bent over backward to ensure that all of his rights were guarded and that he received a fair trial. The evidence against Mr. Leftenant was overwhelming and he to this day refused to acknowledge that or take responsibility for it.”

Francis Barrios mugshot from SCPD

A registered sex offender pleaded guilty on Monday to raping a female taxi driver in December during a trip that started in Port Jefferson.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday that 34-year-old Francis Barrios, of Middle Island, pleaded guilty to first-degree rape.

When the incident first occurred, on Dec. 1, authorities said the driver had picked up Barrios at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital that evening. During the trip he beat and strangled her, causing the taxi to crash into a fence on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Barrios, who police said was homeless, then sexually assaulted the victim.

According to the DA’s office, he pulled her into the back seat and raped her.

Officers responded to the crash scene after a passing motorist called 911, police said at the time.

Police did not release the name of the taxi company, to protect the identity of the victim.

The DA’s office said Barrios was previously convicted as a violent offender in Suffolk County for first-degree attempted rape, and violated his parole. He was expected to be sentenced to 24 years in prison and 20 years of post-release supervision on April 20.

On the New York State sex offender registry, Barrios is listed as a Level 3 sexually violent offender who has also gone by the last name Berrios. He was convicted in November 2004 in relation to an incident of sexual contact earlier that year involving a 12-year-old girl, who was described as a “non-stranger” to Barrios. He was sentenced to 42 months in state prison.

Christopher O'Brien mugshot from the DA's office

A Port Jefferson Station man pleaded not guilty on Monday to a slew of charges that include murder and driving drunk, three months after a wrong-way crash that killed another driver.

Authorities allege 54-year-old defendant Christopher O’Brien was impaired and driving an Audi A4 east in the westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway two days before Christmas when he hit a Toyota Corolla head-on in the left lane shortly after 5:30 a.m., killing driver Thomas D’Eletto, 57, of Aquebogue.

“At the scene, police observed that O’Brien was unsteady on his feet, had bloodshot, glassy eyes and was slurring his words, and he gave oral admissions to the police about drinking and driving,” Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said in a statement.

Police at the crash scene, just east of Horseblock Road, charged the suspect with driving while intoxicated, the DA’s office said, and a blood test two hours after the crash showed a blood-alcohol content of 0.17 as well as cocaine.

While D’Eletto was pronounced dead at the scene, O’Brien was treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Center in East Patchogue.

According to Spota, another driver allegedly saw the defendant drive into oncoming traffic three times about 20 minutes before the fatal crash, at a location north of the Long Island Expressway.

“Then on Sunrise Highway, several drivers reported to police they had to go onto the median or the shoulder of the road to avoid a collision with O’Brien,” Spota said.

The DA’s Office said O’Brien has been remanded to jail for the now numerous charges, from an indictment unsealed Monday, which include second-degree murder by depraved indifference; aggravated vehicular homicide; second-degree manslaughter; second-degree vehicular manslaughter; first-degree reckless endangerment; aggravated driving while intoxicated; driving while intoxicated; driving while impaired by a drug; driving while impaired by the combined influence of alcohol and a drug; and reckless driving.

O’Brien’s attorney, Hauppauge-based Scott Gross, called the crash a “significant tragedy” but maintained his client’s innocence.

“We’re going to evaluate the evidence,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday, “take a look at what the prosecution provides and then make our determination as to how to proceed from there.”

Gross added that the DA’s office had until recently pursued the case as a misdemeanor and said that would not have been true if it had a strong case.

“Their delay is indicative of provability issues,” the attorney said.

O’Brien is due back in court before State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho on April 4.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota outlines the investigation on Wednesday. Photo by Alex Petroski
A makeshift memorial is erected at the scene of the fatal Cutchogue crash. Photo by Phil Corso
A makeshift memorial is erected at the scene of the fatal Cutchogue crash. Photo by Phil Corso

By Phil Corso & Alex Petroski

Story last updated 3.17.16, 8:15 a.m.

A fatal crash was the result of a limousine’s dangerous U-turn at a busy intersection in Cutchogue, and on Wednesday, a special grand jury placed the blame on the driver.

Carlos F. Pino, 58, of Old Bethpage, surrendered to police Wednesday and was arraigned on four charges of criminally negligent homicide, four counts of assault, failure to yield the right of way, reckless driving and other traffic violations, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Pino was attempting a U-turn near the intersection of Depot Lane and County Route 48 on July 18 when Steven Romeo, 55, of Peconic, T-boned the limo, killing four and injuring six.

The crash killed Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack, who were all riding in a limousine in the middle of a weekend wine tour on the eastern part of the Island. The collision also injured passengers Joelle Dimonte, 25, of Elwood, Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale, Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket, and Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn. Romeo, the DA said, was operating the truck under the influence of alcohol and was charged with driving while intoxicated the day of the crash.

Pino pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday and was given a cash bail $50,000 and bond of $100,000. His next court date was scheduled for April 19. Romeo also pleaded not guilty to two counts of driving while intoxicated and one charge of driving while ability impaired by alcohol on Wednesday and was released with his next court date set for April 26.

“I think they may have been somewhat surprised,” Spota said when family members of the victims were notified that Pino, and not Romeo, would be indicted as a result of the crash. “They either expected that it would be the other way around, that Romeo would be the party who would be completely at fault, or perhaps it was just a totally unavoidable accident. Indeed, what the grand jury has found out is that it was totally unavoidable, only as to Romeo, but not as to Pino.”

At the scene, Pino had told police he did not see any oncoming traffic, Spota said. But the subsequent investigation revealed why.

The county had been investigating the crash over recent months, and on Wednesday, the DA announced that while Romeo may have been driving while impaired, the risky U-turn still made it nearly impossible for the collision to be avoided. The grand jury conducted a five-hour investigation of the crash and found that Pino had “limited sight lines looking into westbound traffic” because a Jeep Liberty was positioned in the intersection waiting to turn left onto Depot Lane, Spota said in a statement.

Spota said the Jeep Liberty “completely blocked the limo driver’s view of the oncoming traffic in the main travel lanes.” And despite the fact that the main westbound travel lanes were not visible, the DA said Pino failed to take any precaution to make sure he could safely enter the westbound travel lanes and he continued to make the U-turn.

“A perfectly sober Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. An intoxicated Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. It was simply unavoidable from Romeo’s perspective,” Spota said. “Romeo can be held criminally responsible for driving while intoxicated but he cannot be held criminally responsible for the crash.”

Related: Vineyard visit ends in tragedy for Commack, Smithtown West grads

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said during the press conference that unfortunately many limo drivers exiting Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue try to make the dangerous left U-turn that ended up being fatal, because it is the fastest route to head back west.

“There are other ways to head back west, but that’s the easiest way for them to do it,” Flatley said.

There is now a traffic light at that intersection, Flatley said.

Spota said Romeo was heading west at about 55 miles per hour when the crash occurred. He did not see the limo enter the intersection until he was about 200 feet away, the district attorney said.

“Mr. Romeo had only 200 feet to react to the hazard he saw, and stop his vehicle,” Spota said. “Traveling at 55 mph, it would have taken 1.6 seconds to perceive the limo in his path, to realize he must apply his brakes, and then to begin braking.  This would leave Romeo with even less distance, 129 feet, to avoid a crash — impossible for him to do. In fact our experts tell us that at 55 mph it would have taken anyone 263 feet to stop and avoid the crash.”

After investigating the crash, Spota said the incident was “unavoidable,” thus keeping a grand jury from indicting Romeo for vehicular manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

From left, Amy Grabina, Brittany Schulman, Lauren Baruch and Stephanie Belli. Photos from Facebook
From left, Amy Grabina, Brittany Schulman, Lauren Baruch and Stephanie Belli. Photos from Facebook

Belli, Baruch and Schulman were all decorated members of the national and language honor societies by the time they graduated from Smithtown High School West. Over the summer, schools Superintendent James Grossane said Belli, a 2010 graduate, had an infectious smile and was an enthusiastic student and member of the district’s championship kick line team. Baruch, a 2009 graduate, was best known for her booming laugh and unforgettable smile, Grossane said. Schulman, he said, was another 2010 graduate and had a profound love for her family.

Grabina graduated in 2010 from Commack High School and went on to pursue accounting at Florida State University, ultimately landing a job at Ernst & Young in Tallahassee, Fla.

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