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Drunken driver fatally struck friend in Setauket, cops say

Lawrence Pagano, 23, of Coram, has been charged

Lawrence Pagano, 23, of Coram, has been charged with driving while intoxicated after, Suffolk police said, he accidentally struck and killed Krystal Berkowitz, 21, of Stony Brook on Saturday, July 26, 2014 after she left his car, claiming he was too intoxicated to drive. Photo Credit: SCPD, Kristy Leibowitz

A Coram man fatally struck a close friend with his car along Nesconset Highway early Saturday -- minutes after she refused to ride with him, fearing he was drunk, police said.

The victim had climbed out of the car and was walking home in the dark when the driver attempted to pull over to speak to her, according to Suffolk police.

Krystal Berkowitz, 21, of Stony Brook, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 4:11 a.m. accident near the corner of Old Town Road in Setauket, police said.

Lawrence Pagano, 23, was charged with driving while intoxicated and was being held overnight at the Sixth Precinct in Selden, police said. He is scheduled to be arraigned Sunday at First District Court in Central Islip.

Vehicular Crime Unit detectives, the Suffolk County district attorney's office and the county crime lab are investigating the death, police said.

Berkowitz and Pagano were inside his 2006 Jeep Liberty in a parking lot on Nesconset Highway when Berkowitz expressed concern that Pagano was drunk, police said.

She had walked about a half-mile along the highway's westbound shoulder when Pagano struck her with the SUV, police said.

Berkowitz suffered a serious head injury. Pagano called 911 and was trying to help her when officers arrived, police said.

"I can't even quantify how hard it must have hit him because he loved the girl," said Jay Fischetti, 21, of Stony Brook, who was friends with Berkowitz and Pagano. "They were best friends. He's got to be killing himself on the inside right now."

Police said Berkowitz and Pagano had been together Friday night, but no details were released.

The pair remained close after breaking up about a year ago after several months of dating, said Fischetti, who lives at the rental house on Christian Avenue where Berkowitz had lived since March.

Berkowitz lived with Pagano's family in Rocky Point until the family moved earlier this year, he said.

Fischetti said Pagano worked at a local restaurant and is the devoted father of a young child. Berkowitz was not the mother of the child, he said.

Berkowitz had a laid-back attitude, despite a "tough life" that included stays at group homes and a strained relationship with her family, Fischetti said.

"I know she was definitely a strong person," he said.

Two days before the accident, Pagano visited Berkowitz at her house, and the two were "just hanging out, having normal conversation," Fischetti recalled. They cooked together and watched YouTube videos, he said.

Steve Kern, assistant manager at the Walmart in East Setauket, said Berkowitz worked there stocking shelves for the past six to eight months.

"She was kind of quiet," he said. "She did her work. A very nice girl."

A woman at the residence where Pagano lives with his parents declined to comment Saturday.

With Robert Brodsky

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