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Tom Spota

Legislators not letting Bellone off hook

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is searching for ways to improve the county's financial outlook. File photo by Alex Petroski

A high stakes political finger pointing battle is ramping up in Suffolk County.

Top Suffolk County officials have been left to answer for the promotion of former Chief of Police James Burke, who in February pleaded guilty to charges of a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which occurred following the arrest of Smithtown man Christopher Loeb in 2012.

On Tuesday Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) held a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead where he and fellow legislators, including Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), called for both County Executive Steve Bellone and District Attorney Tom Spota to resign from their positions.

On Thursday, Bellone joined the list of people including the legislators and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco calling for Spota to resign.

“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” Bellone said Thursday afternoon on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office. “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”

Trotta arrived while Bellone addressed the media, and interjected that reporters were speaking with a “co-conspirator.” Trotta reiterated his stance on Thursday that Bellone is as much a part of the political corruption problem in the county as Spota for his role in promoting Burke, and standing by him despite evidence of Burke’s troubled past.

“I have never said that I have never made mistakes in my public career,” Bellone said. “I’ve made many mistakes. But they have never, ever been with ill intent and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I don’t repeat them. When I promoted Jim Burke I consulted District Attorney Tom Spota. When I fired Jim Burke I did not consult Tom Spota.”

Bellone said he promoted Burke not because of recommendations from Spota or others, but because he was a “charismatic” and “impressive” person who made a memorable presentation.

Bellone handed a letter calling for Spota’s resignation to one of his employees inside the office, and Spota later met the media to respond Thursday.

“It’s a very, very difficult day for me,” Spota said in a video of that press conference. “He has delivered to me a letter asking for my resignation. I have absolutely no reason why I should resign, or should I be removed from office.”

Spota fired back at Bellone, suggesting his motivation was a “personal vendetta” against Spota for investigating and prosecuting people Bellone was close to.

On Tuesday, Bellone responded to Trotta, Cilmi and McCaffrey’s calls for his resignation through an email from a spokeswoman.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” the statement said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office.  I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment.”

Trotta made it clear following Bellone’s comments that the county executive should not be let off the hook.

“It was an Academy Award winning performance,” Trotta said of Bellone’s press conference. “Forty-eight hours ago we were partisan, and we were political hacks. Now all of the sudden he responds to a Newsday article, he sees what’s going on and he tries to jump in front of it. It’s ridiculously absurd…He’s a total, unadulterated liar.”

Legislator Rob Trotta, left, calls on Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to resign. Photo by Alex Petroski

Corruption is a word used often relating to Suffolk County government recently, and at least three legislators have had enough.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) spoke at a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature, Evans K. Griffing Building in Riverhead on Tuesday in which he called for the resignation of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and District Attorney Tom Spota. Trotta also called for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer (D), who is also the Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman to step down from one of the two jobs.

“At this point we are calling for the district attorney to step down and to let normalcy come back,” Trotta said, adding stories that continue to come out relating to former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice in February, are “disgusting.” Spota, Bellone and Schaffer were all critical in Burke’s career rise and promotion despite evidence reported by Newsday the men were warned of Burke’s troubled legal past.

Trotta’s calls for Spota’s resignation also stem from his backing of Chris McPartland, a corruption prosecutor in Spota’s office, who Newsday reported in January is under investigation by a federal grand jury for political corruption.

“People need to be held responsible for their actions and right now, in this county, they’re not being held responsible,” Trotta said. “I don’t mean in federal courts or being arrested, I mean morally and socially.”

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) joined Trotta at the press conference. Cilmi stopped short of calling for resignations when pressed, though he made a statement condemning Bellone and Spota’s alleged actions relating to Burke.

“People always have a sense that their political system is corrupt,” Cilmi said. “But day after day, week after week, year after year they’re seeing those fears play out right before their eyes in Suffolk County and it’s disgraceful. Whatever integrity Suffolk County has left is evaporating in a murky haze of finger pointing and deceit.”

Cilmi also echoed Trotta’s sentiments about Schaffer and suggested Schaffer’s two positions created a conflict of interest.

“The people of Suffolk County didn’t elect Schaffer,” Cilmi said. “The people of Babylon elected him town supervisor. Is he able to keep his government role separate from his political role?”

Schaffer could not be reached for comment but Bellone responded to Trotta’s comments in an email through his spokesperson, Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” she wrote. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office. I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment, which is why I nominated former federal prosecutor Tim Sini as police commissioner after vetting him for more than a year.”

Bob Clifford, a spokesperson for Spota, responded in a similar fashion.

“This predictably partisan press conference calling for the resignation of the duly elected district attorney is nothing but a political challenge to the effective leadership of Thomas Spota, who has spent the last 14 years putting criminals in jail,” he said.

McCaffrey and Trotta refuted any claims that the legislators’ motivation was driven by anything other than morality.

“I can tell you there’s Democrats in there that want to be standing here with us,” McCaffrey said, gesturing toward a legislative meeting going on at the same time. “They are ashamed of what’s going on in Suffolk County right now.”

Trotta said he invited Democratic legislators, though none attended.

“This is not about Republicans — this is not about Democrats,” Trotta said. “This is about corruption. Our job as representatives is to look into this. My constituents don’t have the ability to look into it like I can. Having been a former detective for 25 years I came to this job and I am sickened by what I see. Sickened.”

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Terrill Simmons mugshot from SCPD

By Elana Glowatz

A heroin task force has just busted four people living across the street from the John F. Kennedy Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, including one who was found trying to flush drugs down the toilet, authorities said Thursday.

Terrill Simmons mugshot from SCPD
Terrill Simmons mugshot from SCPD

Agencies within the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Heroin Task Force executed a search warrant at the two-story Jayne Boulevard home on Monday, the DA’s office said in a press release, seizing raw heroin, 100 grams of crack cocaine, 50 grams of powdered cocaine, scales, wax packets and other supplies.

Authorities arrested one of the suspects at the scene, 38-year-old Terrill E. Simmons, charging him with criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal possession of marijuana, criminal use of drug paraphernalia, endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with evidence, after he allegedly was found flushing heroin down the toilet as detectives entered the house.

Police have also charged a father-son pair, 48-year-old Daniel Dumas and 27-year-old Daryl Dumas, with criminal possession of a controlled substance and criminal use of drug paraphernalia. The son also faces charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal sale on or near school grounds.

Moneke Alexander mugshot from SCPD
Moneke Alexander mugshot from SCPD

A fourth suspect, 38-year-old Moneke Alexander, listed as a legal resident of Rhode Island, was charged with criminal possession, use of drug paraphernalia and endangering the welfare of a child.

A previous attorney for Daryl Dumas, Patchogue-based Daniel Henthorne, said he had not yet taken the defendant’s case, but “if we take the case then we’ll know more information.” Other attorney information for Dumas was not available. Alexander’s attorney, Riverhead-based Annette Totten, did not return a call seeking comment, while Simmons and the elder Dumas are both listed as representing themselves on the state court system’s online database and could not be reached for comment.

According to the DA’s office, each defendant pleaded not guilty to their respective charges in court on Wednesday.

The child endangerment charges stem from the alleged location of the drugs in the house: District Attorney Tom Spota said most of the heroin, crack and cocaine was found in boxes next to a 2-year-old’s bed — they were allegedly in the bedroom of Alexander’s son.

According to the DA’s office, Suffolk County Child Protective Services is caring for the child.

Daniel Dumas mugshot from SCPD
Daniel Dumas mugshot from SCPD
Daryl Dumas mugshot from SCPD
Daryl Dumas mugshot from SCPD

“Dealing drugs across the street from a school and the storage of these dangerous narcotics within feet of a child’s bed tell you all you need to know about these defendants’ disregard for everything other than getting and selling heroin and other drugs,” Spota said in a statement. “The shutdown of this operation is good news for the community.”

The heroin task force, which is made up of investigators from the DA’s office, county sheriff’s office and police department, had been investigating heroin trafficking within Brookhaven Town for several months at the time of the bust.

Bail was set at $15,000 cash or $30,000 bond for Alexander; $35,000 cash or $70,000 bond for Daniel Dumas; $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond for Daryl Dumas; and $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond for Simmons.

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.”

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.

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

A trial will begin Tuesday for a man accused of shooting an officer after fleeing a police stop in Huntington Station last winter.

Officer Mark Collins was seriously injured when he was shot in the neck and the hip on the night of March 11 during an alleged struggle with the suspect, 23-year-old Huntington Station resident Sheldon Leftenant, who has pleaded not guilty to attempted aggravated murder of a police officer, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and resisting arrest.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said earlier this year that Leftenant faces up to life in prison if he is convicted.

Collins was in plainclothes while working for the 2nd Precinct’s gang unit on the night of the shooting, and helped pull over a car in which Leftenant was a passenger, Spota said. When asked to get out of the car, the suspect fled and Collins gave chase until he cornered Leftenant, an alleged member of the “Tip Top Boyz” street gang, on Mercer Court.

“He had his police-issued Taser in hand,” Spota said. “He never drew his weapon.”

The DA said at the time that Collins, who was unaware the suspect had a gun, used his Taser on Leftenant twice, hitting him in his back.

Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted to his arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon
Sheldon Leftenant, the man who allegedly shot police officer Mark Collins, is escorted to his arraignment in March. File photo by Barbara Donlon

“While it brought the defendant to the ground, unfortunately it did not completely immobilize him,” Spota said.

When Collins went to handcuff Leftenant in that Mercer Court driveway, there was struggle, he said. A gun fired four times in quick succession and Collins was shot in the hip and in the neck, close to his carotid artery.

“Collins knew right away he had been shot because he couldn’t feel anything on his right side and he couldn’t move at all his right arm or his right leg,” Spota said.

To protect himself, the injured officer dragged himself over to a stoop and took cover under his bulletproof vest, facing it toward the suspect.

Spota said Leftenant fled after the shooting and dropped the weapon in the backyard of a neighboring property before hiding about a quarter of a mile from the scene.

Canine unit officers arrived and found both the gun allegedly used to shoot Collins as well as Leftenant.

At the time of Leftenant’s arraignment, defense attorney Ian Fitzgerald said his client was sorry to be in this situation, but wouldn’t comment any further.

A handful of the suspect’s family members were in the audience at that court appearance. They would not comment on Leftenant’s case either, but they left the courtroom chanting, “Free Shel.”

This case was not the first time Leftenant’s name had been involved in a shooting. About seven months earlier, he was shot in the groin while standing with a group of people in front of his Tippin Drive home, when two vehicles drove by and someone fired a gun.

At that time, police said Leftenant was originally treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Huntington Hospital and later underwent surgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

Although Collins was seriously wounded in the shooting last March, he has since recovered and returned to work, the DA’s office said recently, calling the officer “a decorated 13-year veteran.”

The two other shots from the .38-caliber revolver were found inside the home on whose property the struggle took place, the DA said, but no one inside at the time was injured.

Opening statements in Leftenant’s trial were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Riverhead.

 

From left to right, Stephanie Belli’s sister Diana and mother Carol receive their copy of the book with Rabbi Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook. Photo from Chabad at Stony Brook

Four hundred acts of kindness turned out to be an underestimate.

It has been one month since a horrific Cutchogue car crash killed four North Shore women, and Chabad at Stony Brook set out to assemble a book of kind acts to show how good could come out of tragedy. But by the time that book was finished last week, it had grown into a much bigger list.

Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack were riding in a limousine in the middle of a weekend wine tour on the eastern part of the Island when Steven Romeo, 55, T-boned their vehicle as it made a risky U-turn, killing the girls and injuring five others.

After the crash, Romeo was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was initially ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail, or $1 million bond, but that bail was reduced to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond. Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said Romeo had recorded a blood alcohol content of .066 percent — below the legal limit of .08 — when he was tested roughly one hour after the crash. The DWI charge, however, was not dropped, Spota said. No additional charges were filed against Romeo as the investigation continued.

Romeo’s court date, which was originally set for last week, was adjourned to Sept. 18.

The tragedy sent shockwaves through the greater North Shore community, and Chabad at Stony Brook called on everyone to help.

“People came out in big numbers to post all these heartfelt things they were going to do,” said Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen of Chabad at Stony Brook, who helped launch the project in the wake of the tragic crash. “We’ve always encouraged to respond to darkness with light, and to evil with good.”

The group launched a Facebook group called “Goodness & Kindness x 400 for our girls,” and acquired thousands of page views in a matter of days, Cohen said. The goal, he said, was to remember the lives of those lost by compiling a book of names and acts of goodness committed in their honor, to show victims’ families that they were not alone in their darkest hour.

“We felt we were swarming in death,” Cohen said. “This was an act of goodness and kindness to bring more goodness to the world. While we can’t bring the girls back, when the community comes back and shows we are there, it does bring some kind of goodness.”

Good deeds included anything from committing to donate to worthy causes to something as simple as paying for succeeding cars in a Starbucks drive-thru.

Cohen, along with wife Chanie Cohen, a Chabad program coordinator, as well as Rabbi Chaim Grossbaum, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum and the rest of his staff, delivered those books to the victims’ families over the last week and said they helped everyone move forward in a time of great loss.

Diana Belli, sister of Stephanie Belli, took to the “Goodness & Kindness” Facebook page to express her gratitude.

“Thank you so much! With love, my entire family,” she wrote on the page. “This means a lot to us.”

DA to recommend maximum prison term

Maureen Myles. Photo from Suffolk DA's office

An East Northport woman has been convicted of stealing $30,000 meant to fund a van with a wheelchair lift for a Huntington teen with cerebral palsy.

Maureen Myles, 62, was convicted on Friday of grand larceny, scheme to defraud and petit larceny following a seven-day trial in Central Islip, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota’s office. DA detective-investigators arrested Myles in December 2013 for making off with the money, which donors raised at a benefit dinner in Northport.

The DA’s office said State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho found Myles guilty of one count of third-degree grand larceny, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, scheme to defraud and petit larceny.

Myles was previously convicted of a felony — in 2004, a jury found her guilty of grand larceny and scheme to defraud, for buying $40,000 worth of Bermuda cruise tickets using credit card numbers she stole from her employer, according to the DA.

Spota said the office will recommend the maximum prison term of three and a half to seven years when Myles is sentenced on Sept. 2.

Myles’ attorney, Garden City-based Richard Benson, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Red ribbons are one way North Shore residents are remembering the fatal crash victims. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

One week has passed, but no amount of time can ever truly heal the wounds endured by the greater North Shore community since four of its own were killed in a horrific limousine crash.

Anyone driving through the streets of Smithtown and its surrounding communities this week could notice the red ribbons wrapped around trees in memory of Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack. The four girls were killed when Steven Romeo, 55, T-boned their limousine with his pickup truck in Cutchogue last Saturday, injuring Romeo, along with limo driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, Joelle Dimonte, 25, of Elwood, Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale, Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket, and Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn.

After the crash, Romeo was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was initially ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail, or $1 million bond, but that bail was reduced to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond last Thursday, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. At a press conference on Friday, Spota said Romeo had recorded a blood alcohol content of .066 percent when he was tested roughly one hour after the crash. The DWI charge, however, was not dropped despite his BAC coming in below the legal limit of .08, Spota said. No additional charges were filed against Romeo as the investigation continued.

Romeo’s court date, which was originally set for last week, was adjourned to Sept. 18.

The past week saw the funerals of all four of the victims, while those injured were released from hospital care by the middle of this week. The North Shore community planned to take one of its first steps toward closure on Wednesday night at Smithtown High School West, where residents, elected officials and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving were scheduled to meet. The event was borne out of a Facebook page titled “Candlelight Vigil for Our Girls,” which was put into action in the days following the tragedy. By Wednesday, the page had collected more than 6,000 names to its roster and countless photos of mourning and support for the victims’ families.

Marianne Howard, executive director with the Smithtown Historical Society, was one of the several Smithtown residents to tie red ribbons around trees in front of the society’s property. She said various businesses throughout town, including Towers Flowers of Nesconset and James Cress Florist of Smithtown, helped donate the ribbons to the cause.

“We mourn the loss of four beautiful souls who were taken too early from our community,” she said. “We send our deepest condolences to their families and friends. May they rest in peace.”

Chabad at Stony Brook also signed onto the cause of finding good in a tragic situation, launching its own Facebook event page, “responding to dark, with light,” in memory of the four girls and challenging residents to commit 400 random acts of goodness and kindness in their honor.

Chaya Klein Grossbaum of Chabad at Stony Brook said once the goal was reached, the group would print a book detailing each singular act.

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