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Hampton Bays woman high in crash that kills stepfather, injures son: police, family

John Loetscher, 80, right, of Hampton Bays died

John Loetscher, 80, right, of Hampton Bays died when the minivan he was riding in crashed head-on into a minivan in Flanders on Thursday, July 9, 2015. Claudette Stephens, 53, who was driving the minivan in which Loetscher was a backseat passenger, has been charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs and endangering the welfare of a child -- her son who was also in the minivan. Photo Credit: Paul Squire/Riverhead News-Review; Handout

A Hampton Bays woman was high on drugs when she crashed her vehicle head-on with a minivan, killing her stepfather and injuring her teenage son, Southampton Town police and the victim's family said Friday.

Claudette Stephens, 53, was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs and endangering the welfare of a child.

The crash occurred shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday in Flanders, on Route 24 near Long Neck Boulevard, police said.

Stephens' stepfather, John Loetscher, 80, a backseat passenger, was pronounced dead at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead hours later, police said.

Stephens remained at the hospital Friday. Details about her injuries and condition were not released, and police did not say when she would be arraigned on the misdemeanor charges.

Also injured were her son, Matt, 16, and the other driver, Carolina Espana, 33, of Riverhead. Both were listed in stable condition.

Loetscher, a Navy veteran, had returned home Wednesday after a three-month hospital stay for treatment of a back ailment, his family said.

Stephens drew the ire of some of her own relatives, who blamed her for the tragedy.

"There is a lot of bitterness now with the driver," said Loetscher's sister, Rita Loetscher Resling, 70, of Hampton Bays.

Resling said the family was struggling to understand "why my brother would have gotten into the car with her in that condition. It had to be some sort of obvious sign."

Police did not say what drug was allegedly involved in the crash.

Resling said Stephens, who lived with Loetscher, is a licensed practical nurse but was on disability and not working because of a back injury.

At the time of the crash, Stephens was driving Loetscher home from a doctor's appointment in Riverhead in her 2006 Nissan Quest minivan, family members said.

Police said Stephens, on a curving stretch of the highway, "drifted across the turning lane, into the westbound lane of oncoming traffic, and crashed head-on" into Espana's 2014 Honda minivan.

Resling said the family was distraught and "trying not to fall apart; trying to be strong for each other."

Loetscher was a retired Long Island Lighting Co. employee, the family said. He raised five children and four stepchildren, including Stephens.

"He's just a super man, very sensitive, too," said another sister, Rosemary Schofield, 83, who lives next door to Loetscher on Loetscher Lane. Their late father had bought the land and gave each of the six children a lot for them to build houses on decades ago.

Loetscher, the oldest boy, was affectionately called "Hoods-Up Johnny" because he liked to tinker with car engines, relatives said. He enjoyed being home since getting out of the hospital and had adjusted to using a walker.

"He just wanted to be loved and loved everybody," Resling said.

She said her brother loved her cabbage soup with sausage. She cooked up a pot and had some waiting for him Thursday night.

"I had left it on the table for him," she said.

The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call Southampton Town detectives at 631-702-2230.

With Gary Dymski

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