The girlfriend of the SUV driver who authorities said caused the fatal crash that left him and five others dead on the Long Island Expressway in Manorville tearfully defended him Tuesday, saying he wasn’t speeding and was a hardworking and responsible father.
Police said witnesses have told them her boyfriend, Carmelo Pinales, 26, of Hicksville, who was driving a Subaru Outback, was speeding eastbound when he veered off the road to avoid hitting traffic that slowed in a work zone. Police said he drove onto the grassy median and into westbound traffic, striking two other cars.
Ivonne Luque, 22, of Westbury, said she was driving another car directly in front of him and also was forced to drive onto the grassy median. She stopped and was not injured, she said, but watched helplessly as her boyfriend crashed into traffic.
“It’s not true what people are saying, that he was speeding,” said Luque, who explained there was a lot of traffic on the highway.
Suffolk Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante on Tuesday reiterated his earlier remarks that witnesses told police Pinales’ SUV was going faster than the posted 55 mph speed limit.
The chief said his investigators have not determined at what precise speed Pinales was driving — and might not be able to because the SUV was so badly mangled — and are still re-interviewing witnesses and examining the three cars.
“It’s important to know exactly what happened. . . . This was a devastating accident,” Gigante said. “We want to make sure if there’s something that can be avoided or implemented, we can do that.”
State transportation officials have said they are cooperating with the police investigation into whether the steel plates and asphalt along the road’s work zone contributed to the crash.
Luque cried as she recalled her boyfriend’s devotion to his son, how he worked four jobs and his driving Sunday to celebrate the boy’s 10th birthday at the Splish Splash water park in Riverhead.
“Cristopher was everything for him, because he was his only son,” Luque said. “And God took them both.”
Carmelo Pinales’ son and sister Patricia Pinales, 27, of Westbury, also were killed in the Sunday morning crash between exits 68 and 69.
Also killed was Scott Martella, 29, of Northport, who was driving home with his fiancee from a weekend in Greenport and worked as the communications director for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; and married couple Helen Adelson, 71, and Isidore Adelson, 81, of Westhampton, who were traveling to a wedding in New Jersey.
Martella’s fiancee and a married couple traveling with the Adelsons survived.
Martella’s private funeral was held Tuesday. The funeral for the Adelsons is set for Wednesday at 11 a.m. at The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach.
Visiting hours for the Pinaleses is set for Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hartnett Funeral Home, 561 Jerusalem Ave., Uniondale. The funeral is Friday at 9:30 a.m. at the St. Martha’s Catholic Church, 546 Greengrove Ave., Uniondale.
Luque set up a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/2tcuwd98 to help the Pinales family pay for funeral costs; friends and family of Martella also set up a fundraising page at scottmartella.com to pay for funeral and other costs.
Federico Pinales, Patricia and Carmelo Pinales’ uncle, said the large but close-knit family is devastated by the losses.
“We don’t have money, but we are millionaires in love,” he said, describing how Pinales took care of his mother, sister, son and other family members.
The youngest survivor of the crash, Analia Ramirez Pinales, 3, Patricia Pinales’ daughter, is at Stony Brook University Hospital and is being cared for by a team of doctors and her father and other family members, said Federico Pinales of Rockville Centre.
“She’s talking; she eats,” he said. “She feels much better.”
The girl’s father, who lives in Brooklyn, is a constant presence at the hospital as she recovers from multiple injuries. “He loved Patricia,” Federico Pinales said. “I know it’s hard for him.”
Cristopher Pinales’ name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.