Suffolk DA: Charges of DWI Stand in Fatal North Fork Crash

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota speaks during a press conference Friday in Riverhead.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota speaks during a press conference Friday in Riverhead. Photo credit: Jessica Opatich

The measured blood-alcohol level of the pickup truck driver involved in a fatal crash with a limousine on the North Fork was not high enough to meet the legal standard of driving while intoxicated, but according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, charges will not be reduced.

“At this time the present charge of driving while intoxicated will not be reduced to driving while impaired,” said Spota speaking at a new conference in Riverhead Friday. According to toxicology reports, the driver, Steven Romeo, 55, of Southold, had a BAC of 0.066%, below the legal limit of 0.08%.

These results are based off blood samples taken 1 hour and 40 minutes after the crash. A breathalyzer was not taken at the scene, according to Spota, who said, “The very first thing that is occurring is trying to save lives.”

Romeo’s truck collided Saturday with a limousine carrying eight women as the limousine attempted to make a U-turn on Route 48 in Cutchogue after a day out in Long Island Wine Country. Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack, Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown, and Brittney Schulman, 23, of Smithtown, were killed and the four surviving women suffered serious injuries.

“The important factor to consider is what the defendant’s blood alcohol content was at the time the crash occurred,” Spota said. “The forensic toxicologists are telling us now that at the time of the crash the defendant’s blood-alcohol was most likely over 0.08.”

Other factors investigators will take into account are Romeo’s height, weight and when his last meal was prior to the crash. Romeo admitted to police that he drank beers in his home prior to the crash and toxicologists are still determining whether there were any drugs in his system. Romeo’s cellphone along with the personal cellphone and business cellphone of limo driver, Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, have also been collected for analysis.

Police have interviewed other eye witnesses to the crash and others who arrived soon afterward, but Spota was hesitant to comment without the completion of the accident reconstruction. Police will also interview the four remaining women once their medical conditions improve.

Based on new witnesses and results from the blood kit, Spota said a “clearer but not yet complete picture of what occurred on that day is emerging.” Because of this clearer picture, Spota consented to the bail application recently submitted in the Southold Town Court on behalf of the defendant requesting that the bail be reduced from $1 million bond or $500,000 cash to $100,000 bond or $50,000 cash.

Investigators still do not know the speeds of the vehicles, but they do know whether the limo was in drive or reverse. “We do have the answer to that. I’m not going into that,” Spota said.

Romeo remains hospitalized with a broken nose. His next scheduled court appearance is September 18. Spota did not comment on whether prosecutors would seek additional charges.

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