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Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, left, county Legislator Rob Trotta, second from left, and state Sen. Jim Gaughran, right back row, remembered the tragic loss of four young women with their parents Nancy Dimonte, Paul and Suzanne Schulman, Carol Belli, Mindy and Howie Grabina, Steven and Felicia Baruch and Susan Arundel. The group met at Smithtown High School West where a sign is dedicated to their daughters. Photo from Town of Smithtown

On Saturday, July 17, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim joined state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) to present the families of the Cutchogue limo crash victims with signed copies of the New York State legislation improving road safety.

Gaughran presented the families with the New York State bills, which they devoted years advocating for, improving limo and bus safety. The following day marked six years since the community was devastated by the limo crash that critically injured Olga Lipets, Melissa Crai, Alicia Arundel and Joelle DiMonte and tragically killed four Smithtown young women, Lauren Baruch, Amy Grabina, Brittany Schulman and Stephanie Belli.

“I’d like to give a special thanks to Senator Gaughran who made it a point to hand deliver the signed legislation, which he also co-sponsored,” Wehrheim said. “I’d especially like to acknowledge all eight families who led a massive five-year effort to reform limo safety laws. Truth be told, all of New York has these eight remarkable families to thank for making our roads safer. They became the voice for their daughters and their friends, they sought out the Schoharie [limo crash] families after that horrific day to offer comfort and support. They turned grief, heartbreak and frustration into a life saving effort that will benefit countless generations. It’s been an honor to advocate for limo safety by your sides. While these small victories can never replace the lives of our four angels … I can give my word to each of you … this administration will always honor their memory. Lauren, Amy, Brittany and Stephanie will never be forgotten.”

The two bills that were presented to the families on Saturday make it illegal for limousines to make U-turns and the second requires limousines to use commercial GPS devices. Additional legislation that had previously passed includes seatbelt requirements which requires motor vehicles converted into stretch limousines (on or after January 1, 2021) to have at least two safety belts for the front seat and at least one safety belt in the rear for each passenger the vehicle was designed to hold. Additionally, the legislation requires all stretch limousines to be retrofitted to include seatbelts by January 1, 2023. The New Commercial Driver’s License Requirements for Limousine Drivers bill requires individuals operating limousines carrying nine or more passengers, (including the driver) to have a passenger endorsed commercial driver’s license.

Lawyers reveal new details on Case

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered in Smithtown for the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

For the families of the four women who tragically died in a 2015 limousine crash on County Route 48 in Cutchogue, the grief and pain from that fateful day has never gone away.

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered at the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

The families of Amy Grabina, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli, and Brittney Schulman gathered by a Smithtown street July 16 that was named in honor of their daughters next to Smithtown High School West. The group tied purple ribbons around the street sign and were also joined by the parents of four women who were injured and survived the crash.

“Due to the irresponsibility of some and negligence of others, those four women did not return, while four passengers returned physically and mentally scarred,” said Steven Baruch, father of victim Lauren Baruch. “It is five years after the fact and we are still tortured by many unanswered questions … that the picture of what actually happened remains unclear.”

At a press conference after the ceremony, Robert Sullivan, a lawyer for the Baruch family, revealed new information on the case. The lawyer showed an email from a Southold resident that was sent to town officials three years before the fatal crash. The resident in the email warned about the potential for an accident to occur on the intersection that killed the four women.

In addition, the attorney showed a newly surfaced ambulance report shows that there was a front-seat passenger in Steven Romeo’s pickup truck when it crashed into the limousine. The report says she refused medical care at the scene.

“It states on the report that she was the front seat passenger in the red pickup truck, so she saw the whole thing, ” Sullivan said. “That information was never given to us for three years. It was never turned over to the families or lawyers. Why is that? It is all part of a cover-up.”

Lawyers for the families have tried to interview the women, but have been unsuccessful as she has been uncooperative, according to the attorney.

“We have tried to depose this lady to find out what she saw, its [been] five years,” Russell said.
The Baruch and Grabina families are suing the Town of Southold and Suffolk County, claiming that they were negligent in failing to make the intersection safe before the accident.

Families of several young women who died in a limo crash in Cuthogue in 2015 gathered at the five-year anniversary of the crash. Photo by David Luces

The limo carrying the eight women, who were out celebrating an upcoming wedding, attempted to make a U-turn on Sound Avenue when it was struck by Romeo’s vehicle. The limo driver, Carlos Pino, was indicted on criminally negligent homicide charges, though the charges were thrown out by the State Supreme Court in 2016. Romeo pleaded guilty in 2017 to driving while impaired and was sentenced to a 90-day license suspension and fined $500.

Family members said they were denied justice.

Following the 2015 East End crash and a 2018 accident in upstate Schoharie County, New York passed legislation aimed at the limousine industry. The bill, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) in January, requires passenger seat belts, drug and alcohol testing for drivers and increased penalties for illegal U-turns and includes a website where complaints can be made.

The families also called for the Safe Limo Act to be brought to President Donald Trump’s (R) desk and signed into federal law. The bill would set new federal limousine safety rules and standards for seat belts, seat integrity and fund crash safety research, among other things.

They said they are hoping something good can come from something tragic.

“The Safe Limo Act will ensure that the industry will follow the same protocols throughout the entire country,” said Nancy DiMonte, a mother of one of the crash survivors. “We have worked tirelessly to help New York become the forefront of advanced limousine safety measures and we are now prepared to institute these bills nationwide.”