Cops: In crash, woman swerved to avoid car

The 2010 Honda Civic was traveling south in The 2010 Honda Civic was traveling south in the left lane of the Meadowbrook just south of the Southern State Parkway and north of Exit M7 when it crossed to the right lane, onto the shoulder and struck a tree, demolishing the vehicle and ejecting at least one rider, investigators said. (July 15, 2010) Photo Credit: Jim Staubitser

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The driver in last summer's fatal crash that killed three camp counselors had swerved to avoid a car she believed had gone into her lane, state police said Tuesday.

The other car didn't touch the Honda Civic being driven by Justine Mulhall, and the driver of the other car was never identified or located, said State Police spokesman Trooper Frank Bandiero.

Even if that driver were found, Bandiero said, there would have been no basis to charge him or her with a crime.

The July 15 crash on the Meadowbrook State Parkway killed two sisters, Jamie and Paige Malone, along with the driver's brother, Michael Mulhall. The Malones were not wearing seat belts, police have said.

The young people in Mulhall's car -- all from Floral Park -- were headed to Camp Anchor in Lido Beach, where they worked with special needs children, when the other vehicle apparently either attempted to go into the lane occupied by Justine Mulhall or the driver cut her off, and Mulhall overcompensated, lost control and struck a tree, police said.

She and a passenger, Kelly Murphy, were the sole survivors of the crash. Murphy and Mulhall sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Witnesses told police that they saw two cars near each other on the Meadowbrook and then saw Mulhall's car swerve to the right and hit a tree.

Investigators also concluded that the driver was not speeding, talking on a cellphone or text messaging, Bandiero said.

The investigation's conclusions are based on an examination of Mulhall's car, her cellphone, her statements and those of witnesses, police said.

The crash was so emotionally scarring for Justine Mulhall that she now drives only on local streets, said her mother, Peggy Mulhall.

"She does not drive on parkways and highways," Peggy Mulhall said.

The September after the crash, Justine returned to James Madison University in Virginia, but soon transferred to a local college on Long Island, her mother said.

"It was too difficult to be away from home," she said. "She came back at Christmas, and she's home for good now."

The family asked that the name of the school not be published.

This summer, Justine will return to work at Camp Anchor in Lido Beach, Peggy Mulhall said.

The police conclusions that her daughter wasn't using her phone or speeding at the time of the accident dispel rumors in the aftermath of the crash -- rumors that stung, the mother said.

"She did nothing wrong," Peggy Mulhall said.

The father of the sisters killed in the crash, James Malone, said he didn't blame Justine Mulhall for what happened.

"There's no blame," Malone said Tuesday, adding: "I didn't believe in my heart that anything she did caused this."

Peggy Mulhall said the past year has been painful for both families.

"Somebody likened it to a Greek tragedy," she said. "And I said, 'It's my life.' "

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