Families pledge to continue to fight for stricter safety laws
Smithtown High School West students entering the south entrance this week may see a new street sign “LABS Ln,” dedicated as a lasting tribute to four young women killed in a 2015 limousine crash.
More than 700 runners were joined by about 300 local residents, first responders and politicians for the first Running 4 Our Angels 5K Run/Walk April 8. The event aimed to bring awareness to safety issues with limousine safety and honor the lives of Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli, Amy Grabina and Brittney Schulman.
More than $10,000 raised through donations will go to scholarships given out by nonprofit organizations founded by the four families to honor their daughters’ lives. The proceeds will be equally split between the Lawzie Marigold Foundation, founded in honor of Lauren Baruch; the Stephanie Belli Whisperette Scholarship; The Amy Rose Grabina Foundation; and a scholarship given out by the Schulman family. The event organizers declined to
release the total amount raised.
“This was amazing, beyond my wildest imagination,” said Felicia Baruch, Lauren’s mother, who organized the event. “We have such an amazing community in Smithtown, without the community this could not have happened.”
On July 18, 2015, the four women had rented a limousine along with four others to go wine tasting at various North Fork vineyards. Peconic resident Steven Romeo was driving an SUV when he collided with the limousine as it attempted to make a U-turn near the intersection of Depot Lane and County Route 48 in Cutchogue. The four young women died in the crash while the other four were injured.
“It’s coming up to three years years in July and there’s nothing,” said Brittney’s father, Paul Schulman. “There are no changes to anything, the people responsible are still walking around, and I have to keep fighting because if I don’t then it’s not going to happen.”
Romeo pled guilty to driving while impaired and receive a 90-day license suspension in April 2017. The limo driver, Carlos Pino, of Old Bethpage, was arrested and arraigned on four counts of criminally negligent homicide among multiple other traffic violations. However charges were dismissed by a Suffolk County judge in October 2017. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has a pending appeal to reinstate the charges against Pino.
The victim’s families said they feel there hasn’t been any made progress in the fight to improve limousine safety standards, according to Schulman. They have circulated an online petition that calls for politicians to increase regulations on the industry. Their requests include that limos not be allowed to make U-turns, drivers should have required training and that limousines should meet federal safety standards similar to other commercial vehicles.
“What we’re looking for more is changes in Albany,” he said. “Anybody here can be a limousine driver. We want them to go through the same standards that any truck driver or anybody who drives a bus has to go through.”
Local and state politicians offered their condolences to the families and promised to do what they could implement change.
“We have brought with us letters from every elected official who is here advocating for a no U-turn sign, or signal, or both [at the road where the accident occured] and improved safety measures for stretch limousine vehicles.” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said that he is optimistic about introducing a law that will restrict limousine’s ability to make u-turns on left turn signal.
“This should be an absolute no brainer,” Flanagan said. “It’s not like we’re building a bridge. We’re banning U-turns in a spot where four young women were killed. I want to roll my sleeves up and help these people.”
“The people want it, it’s the politicians who need to implement it,” said Howard Grabina, Amy’s father.
The families’ online petition and more information on legal changes they are requesting can be found at: www.labspetition.org.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated April 11 5:58 p.m. There were four women in the limousine with the victims; not six as originally stated.