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Limo crash victims were starting adult lives, seeking careers, travel, adventure

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

The bright sunshine and warm temperatures set an ideal start for a friends' day out in Long Island's wine regions.

But the adventure ended violently Saturday evening when an alleged drunken driver broadsided the limo hired by the eight women in their early and mid-20s. Four of the women starting careers and adult lives died. The other four, plus the limo driver, were rushed to hospitals.

"She had this energy about her," Dana Marie Carlino, 23, of Center Moriches, said of trip organizer and longtime friend Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown.

Baruch started planning the outing weeks in advance, collecting money from the women and keeping track of who among her friends was in, and who decided not to go, Carlino said.

Baruch, Brittney M. Schulman, 23 of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack, died after the limo was hit near Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

Joelle M. Dimonte, 25, of Elwood; Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket; Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn and Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale were injured when Southold marine services business owner Steven Romeo, 55, hit the limo as it made a U-turn, police and prosecutors said.

Romeo pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge. Prosecutors said the charges likely will be upgraded.

The limousine arrived at Baruch's home in Smithtown, and the group set out.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Baruch's father, Steven Baruch, told WCBS-TV. "We loved her more than anything. Now I've got to bury my daughter."

Grabina had just started her first real job out of college in June as a staff accountant at Ernst & Young in Manhattan. Belli had studied business at Farmingdale State College; Schulman had dreams of working in fashion public relations.

Baruch was juggling three jobs, splitting time between nannying, working as an executive assistant at the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and as a hostess at Cafe Havana in Smithtown, Carlino said.

Lauren Baruch

Baruch's work ethic started early. She was student president at Smithtown West High School in 2009 and participated in Distributive Education Clubs of America. Her team took third place in the public relations category at the DECA 2009 International Career Development Conference in California.

Public relations and public speaking were two things that Baruch had planned to pursue after graduating from Farmingdale State College last year, said Carlino, a longtime friend of Baruch's who had skipped the vineyard trip to work.

She also had plans for travel and fun.

"She was just about to go to California and right after that she was going to Israel for two weeks," Carlino said. "She was so excited about that -- to be where her roots came from."

Amy R. Grabina

Grabina, a recent graduate of Florida State University, graduated from Commack High School in 2010, said Lauren Zai, 22, of Melville. A former classmate of Grabina's, Zai said she and Grabina enjoyed a friendly baseball rivalry.

"I like the Yankees, but she loved the Boston Red Sox," Zai said. "For sure, a die-hard fan."

Commack resident Patricia Balestras said she had watched Grabina grow up in their Weeping Cherry Lane neighborhood.

"We're all feeling very numb about this," said Balestras, 47, who lived across the street from Grabina until three years ago. "She had so much life to live."

Grabina shared one of the few public social media posts during the Saturday outing: an Instagram picture of her sipping a drink at Baiting Hollow-based Long Island Spirits, with the comment, "wine not."

Stephanie Belli

According to Belli's Facebook profile, in addition to studying business at Farmingdale State College, she attended Buffalo State College and Smithtown High School West.

She had worked at Steve Madden and LOFT clothing stores, but was, like Baruch, currently working as a nanny, said Carlino, who met Belli through Baruch.

"They were amazing girls," Carlino said. "They were best friends, Stephanie and Lauren."

Zai, who was a friend of Belli's as well as Grabina's, said she and Belli danced together at the Northeast Dance Academy in Commack.

"She was always full of life," Zai said of Belli. "She always had a great heart."

Brittney M. Schulman

More than a dozen people sat outside the Schulman household in Smithtown on Sunday afternoon as tearful mourners stopped by to pay their respects. Schulman's mother, Suzanne Schulman, said in a telephone interview that her daughter was "a caring person."

Adrianna Licitra, Schulman's roommate at SUNY Cortland, said the young woman's death was a "horrible loss." The two friends had been working together to find fashion-oriented job opportunities where Schulman could send her resume.

"She loved fashion," Licitra said. "That was her big thing. She has the most packed closet, filled with clothes and shoes, that you've probably ever seen . . . She died way too soon."

The injured

Dimonte had surgery at Peconic Bay Medical Center Sunday and was in stable condition, according to Samantha Vigliotta, vice president of the center's foundation and external affairs.

Arundel and Lipets were in fair condition at Stony Brook University Hospital Sunday night, according to media relations representative Greg Filiano.

Officials did not say where Crai was being treated or what condition she was in Sunday.

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