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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

A time for reflection and grief

The four who died in the crash were

The four who died in the crash were Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; Lauren Baruch, 24, and Brittney M. Schulman, 23, both of Smithtown; and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack. Credit: Facebook

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell didn't want to talk about the town's ongoing issues with Route 48 Monday.

He said he wanted to wait until police and the Suffolk's district attorney's office complete investigations into a Saturday crash that left four friends, all young women, dead, and six others injured.

The supervisor said -- and very rightly so -- that "this event is so recent" that discussion of pretty much anything else pales by comparison.

Which makes now a time for reflection. And for grief.


Stephanie Belli, Lauren Baruch, Brittney M. Schulman and Amy R. Grabina, all of Smithtown, were friends.

Who now have four other friends recovering in local hospitals from injuries sustained when a red pickup truck driven by Steven Romeo, who has been charged with DWI, slammed into the side of the women's limousine.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, in a news conference Monday, pointed out that the young women had done the responsible thing in planning their trip to the North Shore's vineyard country.

They'd hired a limousine so that they could enjoy themselves and not drive -- and in so doing, attempted to inoculate themselves, and potentially others along the road, from the dangers of drunken driving.

Responsible, yes.

And wise.

Was it so long ago that Long Island grieved the loss of another family's girl, Katie Flynn, who was all of 7 when a limousine carrying her family home from a wedding was struck by a drunken driver on the Meadowbrook Parkway?

That was in 2005.

And since then, the region's given even more attention to drunken driving -- and yet, there've been so many more deaths. Saturday's crash, in fact, was the second horrific accident on Long Island involving an alleged drunken driver in one week.

A car carrying a Queens family burst into flames after it was rear-ended, killing Ancio Ostane, his son, Andy, 8, and daughter, Sephora, 4.

One week.

Two fatal accidents.

A father and two children who never made it home.

And on Saturday, eight young women who decided against drinking and driving -- and one suspect, who, police allege, made a different, and dangerous, decision.

There will be time to discuss what, and whether, improvements can make it safer for the increasing number of stretch limousines and buses bearing visitors east to make their way back west safely along Route 48.

Southold's police chief, Martin Flatley, said during Monday's news conference that town police issue 10 to 12 citations a month -- mostly during September and October -- to limousines that end up blocking lanes while making wide U-turns on roadways.

The limousine carrying the eight women was struck sideways as the vehicle made a U-turn shortly after leaving Vineyard 48, the group's second stop that day.

Monday, Gilbert Anderson, commissioner of public works for Suffolk County -- which is responsible for Route 48 -- said that, in 2013, county officials had reviewed a site plan for proposed improvements on the south end of Vineyard 48's property that would have rerouted bus and limousine traffic to a side road and back to Route 48.

"We made our comments and sent it back . . . ," he said.

Where's the plan now? Is there a chance of it, or something else being implemented?

Such questions remain, even as authorities, who have yet to speak to Saturday's survivors, Spota said Monday, continue to investigate.

But grieving can't wait.

And neither can reflection.

Why are there so many drunken-driving-related crashes on Long Island? Why don't more people choose the responsible decision?

Just as a group of young friends, out for a day on Long Island's bucolic North Fork, did.


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