Lauren Stephan had wrapped up her last day of classes of her freshman year at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Monday — her goal to become a state trooper.
Stephan, 18, of Maspeth, Queens, texted her father Paul Stephan that night to tell him she was sleeping over at her best friend’s house.
“I have a text from her: ‘I love you, daddy,’” Paul Stephan said in an interview Wednesday. “I said, ‘I love you more.’”
At about 4 a.m. Tuesday, Paul Stephan was woken up by a call from police with devastating news: Lauren, his only child, was one of two people killed in a crash on the Long Island Expressway late Monday night.
“Oh my God, you don’t even know,” the distraught father, 53, of Maspeth, said Wednesday. “I spent the day at the morgue yesterday holding her. She was just a beautiful, beautiful child.”
Lauren Stephan and the driver, who police have not identified but was referred to by Stephan’s family as Yousef, were in a 2004 BMW with two other friends heading home from a party on the westbound expressway under heavy rain when their vehicle crashed, family members said.
Nassau police on Wednesday refused to release the names of the occupants of the BMW, saying only the driver was a 20-year-old man from Queens. They said the BMW struck the guardrail, careened across all lanes of traffic and hit the center median, stopping in the HOV lane between exits 40 and 39.
All four of the people inside the BMW got out of the car, and minutes later, the driver of a 2016 GMC Yukon struck the two and the disabled BMW about 11 p.m., police said.
The BMW driver died at the scene and Stephan was pronounced dead at the hospital. Two others had non-life threatening injuries, police said.
Nassau police also declined to name the driver of the Yukon, a 33-year-old man, saying there was no apparent criminality involved. But law enforcement sources said he is an NYPD Highway Patrol officer, who was off-duty at the time.
Stephan’s father said he thinks his daughter and her friends were heading to a party somewhere on Long Island, and they turned around when it started to rain. The father said he wants answers and has hired a lawyer to help.
“That car had to be traveling pretty damn fast to do what he did,” Paul Stephan said, of the Yukon driven by the off-duty cop.
He said when he spoke to Nassau investigators, “they never told me that it was a police officer. They didn’t tell me anything. They just kept telling me the conditions were bad, the man feels sorry.”
In response, Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, the department’s top spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday:
“Our sympathies go out to all of the victims and their families of this horrific crash. The Vehicular Crimes and Reconstruction detectives from the Homicide Squad will continue to investigate. Detectives will continue to confer with the district attorney’s office and the collision is still under investigation. As a result, we can provide no further information at this time and to suggest there is a cover up is completely inaccurate. Final determinations in crash reconstruction cases frequently take time.”
Stephan’s best friend since elementary school Brianna Perez, 18, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, was one of the surviving passengers in the BMW, according to her mother, with another man who police only identified as a 19-year-old from Queens.
“She is devastated,” said Jennifer Gildau, 36, Perez’s mother.
Gildau said her daughter told her she doesn’t remember much about the crash, but was told by the other survivor that another car may have sideswiped the BMW, causing it to crash initially.
She said the survivor told her the BMW was smoking in the HOV lane, so they all got out and ran across the highway to the shoulder.
But, Gildau said, the other survivor told her daughter that Stephan and the driver ran back to the BMW to retrieve items from the car — her purse and his cellphone. And that’s when the Yukon hit them.
A police spokesman would not confirm that account.
Gildau said her daughter had a concussion and a fractured shin, shoulder and ankle as a result of the crash.
Gildau said Perez, who has known Stephan since pre-K and Yousef since middle school, “cried herself to sleep. Besides being in pain, her heart hurts her.”
At the home of the young man identified by the Stephans as the driver, family members declined to comment. The stoop of the apartment complex was lined with more than three dozen candles.
“Rest in Paradise Yousef,” a handwritten message on a candle said.”
“Love You Bro,” another message said.
Paul Stephan said he and his daughter spent almost every weekend upstate in their Cossayuna Lake home, where they boated and she rode in horse shows.
She graduated with honors in 2015 from Maspeth High School, her family said.
“She was really talented; she was so smart,” said her grandmother, Gladys Stephan. Visitation for Stephan was scheduled for Tuesday from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 96-07 103rd Ave., Ozone Park, Queens. Funeral services will follow. Burial will be Wednesday in upstate Greenwich.
With Darran Simon