TODAY'S PAPER
30° Good Evening
30° Good Evening
Long IslandSuffolk

James Palumbo of Yaphank killed in Medford crash while on way to donate clothes

James Palumbo, shown here in 2019, was killed

James Palumbo, shown here in 2019, was killed in a crash in Medford on Jan. 3, 2021. Credit: Palumbo Family

The Yaphank man killed Sunday in a crash, allegedly caused by a man being followed by a Suffolk police officer, was a father of four en route to donate clothes to a charity, the man’s sister said.

On Sunday, after the man, James Joseph Palumbo, 56, failed to return home, his family began texting one another to figure out his whereabouts. His wife, Leona, was pulling out of the couple’s driveway to look for him when a police detective arrived to deliver the news, said Palumbo’s sister, Rosanne Wellmaker.

"Everybody’s still in shock," said Wellmaker, of Central Islip. "It’s like it’s not real."

The crash happened Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in Medford as Palumbo, a regional manager for a security firm, drove southbound in a 2021 Chevrolet, the Suffolk County Police Department said Sunday.

He was turning left from County Road 101 onto Station Road when he was struck and killed by a Mercedes-Benz being driven northbound on the county road through a red light by Malcolm Stewart, 29, of Coram. Stewart’s driving had been "suspicious," and the cop "was attempting to follow the car when he observed" the collision. The department hasn't said how long the cop had been following Stewart, who was later arrested on drug and weapon charges.

Stewart and his passenger, Savanna Steinbach, 23, were hospitalized with injuries from the crash. She too was charged with drug possession.

In the coming days, Stewart's case is to be presented to a grand jury, prosecutor Ray Varuolo said at a virtual arraignment Wednesday afternoon for Stewart, adding, "at that time, we believe we will have additional homicide charges."

Judge Edward Hennessey of Suffolk County District Court set bail at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond or $2 million partially secured bond, though the issue is moot, because Stewart, a felon, is on parole and is being jailed pending a return to state custody.

His attorney, Steven Wilutis of Miller Place, told the court that he believed that Stewart, whose appearance in court Wilutis waived, was the passenger, not the driver.

Steinbach was released on her own recognizance at arraignment at First District Court. Her attorney, listed in records as Peter Mayer of Hauppauge, did not return a message.

On Sunday, Palumbo was moments away from the charity Wellmaker said he was heading to — Savers on East Patchogue Yaphank Road in Medford. The charity's website says it benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island. He was a regular donor, Wellmaker said.

"Such a senseless thing," she said of the crash. "Such a terrible waste of such a giving person."

Palumbo was an organ donor.

"The whole family is thankful his organs will save others," she said. "He was giving in life and in death."

Palumbo was father to four adult children — three women and a man, ages 22 to 26.

In addition to his widow and the four kids, he is survived by his mom, Susan Palumbo-Weinberg; his dad, James L. Palumbo; a stepfather, Robert Weinberg; and two stepsisters, Michelle Roth and Suzanne Palacios. A memorial service is Sunday at Mangano Family Funeral Home of Middle Island, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Palumbo was very close to his family, who would have dinner together every night, his sister said.

As for many families, this past Christmas was unusual, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ordinarily about 30 people would gather but this year there were check-ins and Christmas greetings over the telephone, Zoom and FaceTime.

"That was the last time I spoke to him, on Christmas," she sobbed.

Late last year, Palumbo had made a guest appearance — as Santa — on his daughter Angela’s podcast, "12 Weeks of Christmas."

"I can’t wait to take the reindeer out and deliver presents to the world … Rudolph is particularly excited to lead my sleigh tonight and get me safely to your homes. I think it’s best to finish off this very difficult year with a whole lot of Christmas cheer," his voice bellowed. "So remember, to keep being patient, kind and thankful for your families, friends and loved ones."

Latest Long Island News