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Driver in crash: I took pills for pain

Thomas Smith, 20, cries inside his Ridge home.

Thomas Smith, 20, cries inside his Ridge home. Smith is the alleged DUI driver charged in the crash that killed 19-year-old Jacqueline Salvador, 19, and Ryan Baumgartner, 17. (April 16, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

The Ridge man police said was driving the vehicle that crashed early Saturday morning and killed two teenagers, including his girlfriend, said Monday that he took two muscle relaxants a few hours before the wreck to relieve neck pain.

Riding a roller coaster at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey had aggravated pain related to injuries he sustained in a car accident in 2008, Thomas Smith, 20, told Newsday.

He faces a misdemeanor charge of driving while ability impaired by drugs. His lawyer, Commack-based John Juliano, said Sunday that toxicology tests could be finished as soon as Tuesday, when Smith is scheduled back in First District Court in Central Islip for a hearing on the charges.

With his mother, Kelly Smith, 46, by his side in his home and clutching his head with both hands Monday, Smith mourned the loss of his girlfriend, Jacqueline Salvador, 19, of Ridge, and friend Ryan Baumgartner, 17, of Rocky Point.

Thomas Smith cried, saying his plans for a future with Salvador were "to have a family and help her become a psychologist."

Salvador's family has not publicly commented since her death. A private viewing at Marinello Funeral Home in Coram was scheduled last night and continues today. Funeral arrangements for Baumgartner have not been released.

Salvador and Baumgartner were sitting on the passenger side of Smith's sport utility truck -- Salvador in the front, Baumgartner in the backseat -- on the drive from a day at Six Flags. The vehicle struck a tree along the northbound lanes of William Floyd Parkway at 1:24 a.m., according to police. Salvador and Baumgartner were both ejected from the vehicle by the impact, police said.

Smith was arraigned and released from the Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead on Sunday evening after posting $75,000 bail.

Baumgartner's mother, Randi Baumgartner, broke down after Smith's arraignment, shouting, "He killed my son . . . I can't believe he killed my son and he got bail."

Kelly Smith said she understood the Baumgartner family's pain. "Our hearts break for the parents of these children," she said.

Her heart also broke for her son, she said. "He's 20 years old," she said. "He's got to live with this for the rest of his life."

Prosecutors said Smith had admitted to police that, before the accident, he had smoked marijuana and taken muscle relaxants. According to court documents, police said Smith appeared lethargic, his eyes were bloodshot, he had a "slow, thick speech" and was delayed in his responses when they interviewed him.

Smith said Monday that he took two Flexeril tablets -- for which he had a prescription -- after going on the El Toro roller coaster ride at Six Flags.

The pills, he said, help relieve muscle spasms related to his neck being fractured in a 2008 car accident in which he was a passenger.

"When this toxicology report comes out, I hope this case is dismissed," Kelly Smith said. "It was just a horrible, horrible accident. Two seconds and it was over."

According to a 2003 letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from Flexeril's manufacturer, McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the drug "may impair mental and/or physical abilities required for performance of hazardous tasks, such as operating machinery or driving a motor vehicle."

Jacqueline Salvador's brother, Johnny Salvador, 17, of Coram, was also a passenger in the vehicle and broke an arm and leg in the crash. He underwent surgery at Stony Brook University Medical Center and was listed in fair condition Monday, according to a hospital statement. He also learned about his sister's death Monday.

"We withheld this information from Johnny because he needed to be in the right physical and mental state to hear about this terrible news," his legal guardians, Tim and Christine Austin, said in a statement. "We told him this news with family members and friends present to ensure that he receives the utmost support during the healing process."

Another passenger, Taylor Lynch, 16, of Shirley, suffered minor injuries.


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