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Crackdown on limousines, buses in Southold -- site of deadly limo crash

Route 48 and Depot Lane looking east in

Route 48 and Depot Lane looking east in Cutchogue has flashing yellow lights and a speed limit of 55 mph. The intersection is shown on July 21, 2015. A new traffic signal is expected to be activated in early October, a county official said. Credit: Randee Dadonna

A weekend crackdown on buses and limousines in Southold resulted in more than three dozen tickets issued to the operators of 17 vehicles.

One bus driver was cited for making an illegal turn at Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue -- the intersection where four friends on a North Fork winery tour were killed in July in a horrific limo crash.

Safety inspections led police to pull two buses and one limo out of service during the crackdown Saturday, police said.

One of the buses was taken out of service for having two emergency exit windows that did not open, a malfunctioning indicator for its brake system, an engine that stalled when starting, and failing to meet other requirements, Suffolk County police said. The limo was taken out of service due to an inoperable emergency brake, Suffolk police said.

The enforcement action, involving a U.S. Department of Transportation check, was conducted throughout the town Saturday by Southold Town police with assistance from Suffolk County police Motor Carrier Safety Section officers and the Suffolk Taxi and Limousine Commission, officials said.

Police said officers escorted eight buses and nine limos to the checkpoint, where 34 violations were cited. Many of the violations stemmed from a new law that requires commercial vehicles with nine or more passengers, including the operator, to display the name of the commercial licensee and associated state DOT number, as well as a lack of required warning devices for stopped vehicles, Suffolk County police said.

Motor Carrier Safety officers also issued six tickets for violations, while the commission issued three for unregistered drivers, police said.

Southold police issued the violation to the bus that made the illegal turn at Depot Road.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said this was the second time his department has collaborated with Suffolk police in recent months.

"This time of year is the vineyards' busiest time of year, which make it our busiest time also, and a lot of travelers who visit the vineyards come in limos and buses," Flatley said. "The goal is -- with the amount of limos and buses we have out here -- to make sure they're up to safety standards for the roadways . . . to make it safe to travel."

The crackdown came two months after the Route 48 crash killed limousine passengers Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack, Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Lauren Baruch, 24, and Brittney Schulman, 23, both of Smithtown.

Four others in the limo and limo driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, and pickup driver Steven Romeo, 55, of Southold -- were injured. Police said the limo carrying the friends was broadsided by the pickup as Pino made a U-turn on Route 48 at Depot Lane on July 18.

Romeo was charged with driving while intoxicated. Tests taken an hour and 40 minutes after the crash showed his blood-alcohol level was 0.066 percent, under the legal threshold of 0.08, but prosecutors say they intend to show that Romeo was legally intoxicated at the time of the wreck.

On Saturday, officials announced new signal equipment installed at the intersection will be activated in October.

The current signal system has flashing red lights on Depot Lane and flashing yellow lights on Route 48 to alert drivers.

A county spokesman said Saturday that the new signal was planned long before the deadly limo crash.

With Will James

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