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DWI suspect was leaving Dowling party

Ralph Cerullo of East Setauket was arrested on

Ralph Cerullo of East Setauket was arrested on drunken-driving charges after his speeding car crashed into a median guardrail on Sunrise Highway in Sayville, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office said. (Dec. 3, 2010) Credit: Handout

Ralph Cerullo's Dowling College colleagues describe him as an asset to the Oakdale school.

His East Setauket neighbors called him generous and helpful.

But early Friday morning, the Dowling College chief financial officer drove several miles in the wrong direction on Sunrise Highway, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office said, at speeds that reached 100 mph, before being forced to stop.

When Cerullo, 54, got out of the 2008 Infiniti registered to Dowling, he had trouble standing, officials said. He smelled of alcohol and failed the physical sobriety tests, they said.

Cerullo's arrest on charges of drunken driving, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and fleeing police now muddies the school's plans to make him permanent chief financial officer, a job he'd been doing as an unpaid volunteer since June, school officials said. He was released on $50,000 bail.

Michael Puorro, chairman of the trustees, said the board was gathering the facts about the incident before deciding on Cerullo's future. Cerullo, himself a board member, was supposed to start as the full-time, paid chief financial officer in January, said Kelly Kazemier, Dowling's director of communications.

"He's been a wonderful addition with his volunteer work," Puorro said, adding Cerullo is a "high-quality individual of high character."

Board member John Racanelli said Cerullo has helped strengthen the college's internal finances and was Dowling's point man on dealing with lenders.

"He has been a great asset to the board, the executive committee and the college in terms of reorganizing the focus of the college," Racanelli said.

Cerullo's status as CFO will be reviewed by the chairman of the board of trustees and the trustees' executive committee, Kazemier said. Cerullo stepped down as president of the alumni association about a month ago, she said.

Scott Rudolph, Dowling's interim chief executive, could not immediately be reached for comment. Rudolph took over administration of the college in June, Kazemier said.

A knock at Cerullo's door went unanswered Saturday. Charles Franco, 69, and his wife, Nina, 57, who live across the street from Cerullo, said that they have been neighbors more than 20 years. "He's a very nice guy," Charles Franco said. "He's generous and very helpful."

Kazemier said Cerullo was provided with the car by the college's administration while he was working as a volunteer. "Certain positions at Dowling require a lot of driving to businesses or other institutions in the college's interest," she said. "He was designated for the use of this car."

Cerullo had been at a college holiday party Thursday night at the Bellport Country Club, Kazemier said. Nearly 125 people attended the party, an annual event open to college students, staff and alumni, she said.

People made 13 calls to 911 about a wrong-way driver on Sunrise Highway late Thursday night, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office said.

Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan, Suffolk County's poet laureate, said she was one of those callers.

Heading east on Sunrise Highway near Exit 53, she said she saw a pair of headlights coming right at her.

"I thought, maybe I was just tired and I was looking at the lights incorrectly, but as I got closer I thought, 'Woah! He's right in front of me!" said Nuzzo-Morgan, of Southampton, recalling that she swerved to avoid the car and then called 911.

Deputies were able to stop Cerullo by blocking his car's path as he sped west in the eastbound lanes of the highway near Exit 49, police said.

Cerullo, who also worked as a controller with the New York City law firm of Greenberg Traurig, had a clean driving record, police said.

With Yamiche Alcindor, Matthew Chayes and Bart Jones

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