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In wake of Cutchogue crash, limo group pushes for limits on U-turns

A limousine heading eastbound on Route 48 and

A limousine heading eastbound on Route 48 and Depot Lane makes a legal U-turn to head westbound on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. This is the intersection where an accident involving a pickup truck and a limo carrying eight women resulted in four deaths. Credit: Randee Daddona

A local limousine association wants its members to limit making U-turns to avoid collisions like the July 18 fatal limousine crash in Cutchogue.

"Safety is our main objective here," said Robert Cunningham, president of the Long Island Limousine Association and owner of Platinum Limousine in Stony Brook.

It is legal to make a U-turn at the Cutchogue intersection where four women died when a pickup truck broadsided their limousine as it turned. But police and neighbors said drivers struggle to do it safely.

The limousine association said the accident has caused them to recommend that drivers don't make U-turns on Route 48 or any other main road.

"We want them to go where there is a light, or . . . go to the shopping center and turn around," said Charles Gandolfo, a board member of the association that represents 70 companies.

Gandolfo, also president of Dynasty Limousine of Babylon, said, "No one wants to see this happen again."

The four victims who died in the crash -- Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack; and Brittney Schulman, 23, also of Smithtown -- had joined four other friends for a visit to the North Fork's wine region.

The group's last stop was a visit to Vineyard 48, on the south side of Route 48, a four-lane divided road.

To head west to Smithtown, where the women came from, limousine driver Carlos Pino first drove east to nearby Depot Lane, where there is an intersection and a flashing yellow light, and then made the U-turn, police said.

Cunningham, who once drove a truck, said the degree of difficulty of a U-turn depends on the driver's experience, the space to make the turn, and size of the limousine.

Some limousines swing wide, blocking the westbound lanes, and others have to reverse in the middle of the intersection to complete the turn, according to Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley.

Michael F. Engelhart, who owns Fire Island Limousine in Sayville, said he recalled Southold officers telling limousine drivers about two years ago not to make U-turns at that intersection.

"Most limos are too big to make a U-turn in one shot," said Engelhart, 57, who avoids making those turns in his limo. "They end up doing a three-point turn."

Steven Romeo, the pickup truck driver who hit Pino, had a blood alcohol content of 0.066, based on a blood sample drawn one hour and 40 minutes after the crash. He has been charged with driving while intoxicated.

Pino, 58, of Bethpage, made a legal turn, prosecutors said. He has not been charged with a crime, authorities said.

Pino told police he saw no oncoming traffic when he made the turn, authorities said. But an eastbound driver told police that Pino turned right in front of the limousine, officials said.

Cunningham, a 25-year veteran of the limousine industry, said he too avoids making U-turns.

"I go around the block," he said. "I don't make a U-turn with this thing. It's too big."


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