The two drivers charged in connection with a limo crash last summer that killed four young women will not be tried together, a Suffolk judge ruled Tuesday.
The limo driver, Carlos Pino, 59, of Old Bethpage, will be tried separately from Steve Romeo, 55, of Southold, the pickup driver who crashed into the limo. Pino is charged with four counts of criminally negligent homicide and assault because prosecutors say he did not look for oncoming traffic or stop before attempting to make a U-turn on July 18 at the intersection of County Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue.
The turn brought him into the path of Romeo, who prosecutors say was driving while intoxicated. Even so, prosecutors say Romeo never could have stopped in time or avoided the limo.StoryDA: Limo driver charged in fatal crashStoryFatal limo crash spurs North Fork traffic studyStoryFamily of limo crash victim files claim vs. town
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho granted a motion by Romeo’s attorney, Daniel O’Brien of Nesconset, to keep the two defendants’ cases separate. O’Brien said his client’s case would be unfairly tainted by the one against Pino.
“One guy is charged with the fatalities,” O’Brien said. “We don’t want to be sitting at the same table.”
Pino’s attorneys declined to comment. Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement the decision was “appropriate.”
Camacho also scheduled pretrial hearings in the case against Romeo to determine whether statements he made and blood he gave while hospitalized after the crash are admissible at trial.
That blood was drawn an hour and 40 minutes after the crash. Tests showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.066 percent, under the legal threshold of 0.08, but prosecutors say they intend to show that Romeo was legally intoxicated at the time of the wreck.
O’Brien said remarks his client made at the hospital — including giving consent to test his blood — were not voluntary. Romeo had suffered a broken nose and a broken sternum in the crash and was disoriented and medicated from treatment, he said.
The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 7.
In the case against Pino, Camacho is weighing whether to release grand jury minutes — normally kept secret — to attorneys on both sides so that they can evaluate whether the grand jury was properly instructed about a state Court of Appeals case .
Pino’s defense has argued that he can’t be charged because that appeals court ruling found that a similar accident did not rise to the level of a crime.