The pickup truck driver who crashed into a limousine, killing four women on a North Fork winery tour in 2015, was sentenced Wednesday to a 90-day license suspension, drawing an angry outburst from the victims’ families.
Steve Romeo, 56, of Southold, pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, a traffic infraction, and was also fined $500 plus court fees.
Romeo initially was charged with driving while intoxicated, but Suffolk County prosecutors have said he wasn’t over the legal limit and had no way to avoid hitting the limo.
In exchange for the plea, State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho agreed to a conditional discharge, meaning Romeo will receive no further punishment if he stays out of trouble.
Relatives of the victims packed the Central Islip courtroom. Some wailed and shouted expletives after the sentence was imposed, calling it a travesty.
“Ninety days!?” one person yelled in disgust.
Romeo, co-owner of a Southold marine services company at the time of the crash, did not speak in court or respond to reporters’ questions afterward.
“What we said from the beginning of this case is that Steve Romeo was not the fault or the cause of the accident, nor was he intoxicated,” said defense attorney Stephen O’Brien of Nesconset. “Today’s resolution of the case confirms that.”
The limo driver, Carlos Pino, 59, of Old Bethpage, had been charged with criminally negligent homicide because prosecutors said he didn’t look for oncoming traffic or stop before attempting to make a U-turn on July 18, 2015 at County Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue.
Camacho dismissed the charges against Pino in October, ruling that the driver’s attempt to make a U-turn may have been unwise without a clear view of oncoming traffic, but it did not rise to the definition of a crime.
The crash killed Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Lauren Baruch, 24, and Brittney Schulman, 23, both of Smithtown.
Family members couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
O’Brien said Romeo “has felt sorrow for the families from day one. . . . There’s just nothing that Steve can do to ever restore the families to what they were before the accident.”
Blood from Romeo 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.
Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti said outside court Wednesday that the plea deal “was necessitated by the results of the blood-alcohol levels and rules of evidence with respect to the use of our extrapolation — what we would be permitted to do with the forensic testimony.”
At least three civil negligence lawsuits are pending against Romeo and Pino and their affiliated businesses.
With Lisa Irizarry