The SUV plowed all the way to the back of Hawaii Nail & Spa on Grand Boulevard in Deer Park.  Credit: Paul Mazza

This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Nicholas Grasso, Arielle Martinez and Deborah S. Morris. It was written by Brodsky. 

A drunken driver killed four people and injured nine others when he drove his SUV through a Deer Park nail salon on Friday afternoon, Suffolk police said.

Steven Schwally crashed his 2020 Chevy Traverse into the front of Hawaii Nail & Spa on Grand Boulevard at 4:32 p.m., according to Suffolk officials. The salon was open and conducting business at the time of the crash.

Three women and a man were pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. Nine other people were transported to hospitals; five taken by ambulance to Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip, three by ambulance to South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, and one airlifted by Suffolk police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital.

The out-of-control vehicle plowed all the way to the back of the store, trapping employees and customers inside, said Deer Park Third Assistant Chief Dominic Albanese. Firefighters found four people dead on arrival, according to Albanese.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Four people were killed and nine hospitalized after an SUV crashed into a Deer Park nail salon.
  • The driver of the SUV was charged with driving while intoxicated.
  • The nail salon is located in a strip mall, which also includes a Dominican restaurant and a liquor store.

Schwally, 64, of Millet Street in Dix Hills, was charged with driving while intoxicated. He was taken to Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.  

Schwally was semiconscious after the crash, Albanese said. 

“There were people trapped and we extricated them and transported everyone to area hospitals,” Albanese said. “They were trapped inside. Everybody was inside the salon.”

Records show Schwally previously pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, in April 2014, after he was arrested by Suffolk police in March 2013. Schwally received probation, his license was suspended, and he was fined $500 in that case. 

Hours after the crash Friday, the SUV remained in the back of the store, nearly reaching a back wall, with its taillights flashing. All of the storefront windows were destroyed.

“It's horrible. It's horrible. It can be tough for the community and tougher for the volunteer fire department, but you know we're going to get through it,” Albanese said. “It's just a horrible thing to see especially in this coming year with all the good things happening and graduations and whatnot.”

The nail salon is located in a strip mall, which also includes a Dominican restaurant and a liquor store. The strip mall is next to a traffic light and across from a Kohl's shopping center. The Tanger Outlets are nearby.

Nine fire departments and about 150 firefighters and paramedics responded to the scene, along with eight ambulances. Fire officials activated their crisis team for a mass-casualty event.

Suffolk police said Major Case detectives were investigating the crash, but they had not released the victims' identities.

Police and firefighters surrounded the scene, while spectators looked on from across the street, some wiping tears from their eyes.

Eric Perez was loading groceries from Stop & Shop into his car in the parking lot across from the crash scene when he heard the sound of a car speeding through the lot toward Grand Boulevard.

“I didn't think anything of it,” he said. “You always hear noise. But then I heard something. It sounded like shattering … it was a sound that I never heard before.”

As Perez and his wife, Gina Perez, left the parking lot, they saw the horrific scene.

“We saw the ambulance and emergency workers pulling one body out,” Gina Perez said. “And I saw two women I think worked there come out on stretchers.”

Aisha Francis lives three blocks from the scene and was planning to visit the nail salon Friday. But she was running two hours behind booking a flight for her mother.

“The people in the shop were always so kind and courteous,” she said of the nail salon staff. “Very hospitable. This is devastating.”

Jasmine Darbouze, 39, of Deer Park said she had a regular 4:30 p.m. appointment at the salon every Friday.

She said she missed her appointment this week after going on Monday instead.

“I'm a customer every Friday. I don't know who's here and who's gone I just keep picturing their faces,” she said. "It's weird, it's like my Friday ritual. I know the owner and the ladies in there and I'm still in shock. I feel terrible.”

After the crash, she received a call from a friend who asked if she had gone to the store because she knew Darbouze gets her nails done on Fridays.

Darbouze said she didn't know the fate of any of the regular employees or customers. She remembers one of the employee's little boys who would occasionally play in the window.

“I have all these thoughts in my head. I hope everyone's OK,” Darbouze said.

Valerie Fisher of Deer Park said she got a manicure and pedicure at the salon Thursday. She said she knew the manager would usually sit at the front of the store as the ladies would do nails.

“It’s defeating. Life is so fragile. You never know what’s going to happen,” Fisher said. “I'm very sad and in horror.”

There were 1,593 crashes into buildings and walls on Long Island from 2018 to 2022, eight of which were fatal, according to the DMV’s Accident Information System database. None of the previous crashes involved multiple fatalities.

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