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Lawyers for limo driver in fatal crash seek grand jury evidence

Limousine driver Carlos Pino is shown Tuesday, June

Limousine driver Carlos Pino is shown Tuesday, June 7, 2016, at First District Court in Central Islip. Pino's attorneys want to review grand jury evidence that led to his indictment in a crash that killed four passengers. Credit: James Carbone

Attorneys for a limousine driver charged in the death of four passengers on a North Fork winery tour last summer said they will file a motion to review grand jury minutes they claim in court papers were “insufficient” to indict their client.

A grand jury in March held Carlos Pino, 59, of Old Bethpage, solely responsible for the July 18, 2015, crash after prosecutors said he did not look for oncoming traffic or stop before attempting to make a U-turn at County Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue.

Pino’s attorneys have argued that the evidence presented to the grand jury doesn’t support charges of criminally negligent homicide, third-degree assault and reckless driving, according court papers filed last month.

They have cited a state Court of Appeals decision dismissing criminally negligent homicide charges against limo driver James McGrantham, who drove the wrong way in Brooklyn in 2006 and killed a motorcyclist while making a three-point turn.

Prosecutors included no evidence showing Pino was intoxicated, speeding, or failed to obey a traffic signal, his attorneys said in court papers.

Tuesday, State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho met with prosecutors and Pino’s attorneys to discuss a motion filed in May to dismiss most of the charges.

Instead, Camacho suggested Pino’s attorneys file a motion to review grand jury evidence from the usually secret proceedings, said Leonard Lato, one the defendant’s two defense attorneys.

Lato said among questions he hopes to have answered from the grand jury evidence is whether it shows Pino knew his actions were dangerous but made the U-turn anyway and if jurors were instructed about the McGrantham case.

The appeals court ruled that McGrantham’s decision to turn around was “was not wise, but it does not rise to the level of moral blameworthiness required to sustain a charge of criminally negligent homicide.”

Pino looked and didn’t see the oncoming traffic when he made the U-turn, his attorneys said, but his conduct was not morally blameworthy.

A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Office declined to comment on the motions.

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 when a pickup truck driven by Steven Romeo, of Southold broadsided the limo. Four women — all in their 20s — were injured.

Suffolk District Attorney Spota has said that if Pino had looked, a Jeep Liberty would have blocked his view of oncoming westbound traffic, which included the pickup truck driven by Romeo.

Romeo and Pino could not have seen each other until the last second, or less than 250 feet away, because the westbound Jeep was about to turn onto Depot Lane, according to Spota.

Pino, who pleaded not guilty in March, was released on $100,000 bail after he was indicted on 16 charges. Romeo remains charged with misdemeanor driving while intoxicated.

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