Steven Schwally, the alleged drunk driver who crashed into a Deer Park nail salon, killing four, told police he drank 18 beers the night before. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: NewsdayTV; Thomas J. Lambui; James Carbone

The alleged drunken driver who crashed his SUV into a Deer Park nail salon, killing four and injuring nine others, told police he drank 18 beers the night before he “plowed through” the storefront in a “violent explosion,” a Suffolk prosecutor said at his arraignment Monday.

Steven Schwally, 64, who is homeless, was seated in a wheelchair and wearing a hospital gown as he pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated before Judge Bernard Cheng at First District Court in Central Islip. Bail was set at $1 million cash, $2 million bond or $5 million partially secured bond.

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Alexander Bopp said prosecutors intend to present the case to a grand jury to consider vehicular homicide charges.

“Witnesses described the crash as a violent explosion,” Bopp told the judge Monday. “It looked like a bomb had gone off. Bodies were everywhere. Several individuals, including two of the deceased, had to be removed from under [Schwally's] vehicle.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The alleged drunken driver who crashed his SUV into a Deer Park nail salon, killing four and injuring nine, told police he drank 18 beers the night before he “plowed through” the storefront in a “violent explosion,” a Suffolk prosecutor said.
  • Steven Schwally, 64, who is homeless, pleaded not guilty to driving while intoxicated before Judge Bernard Cheng at First District Court in Central Islip.
  • Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Alexander Bopp said prosecutors intend to present the case to a grand jury to consider vehicular homicide charges.

The crash killed the shop’s co-owner Jiancai Chen, 37, of Bayside, Queens; employees Yan Xu, 41, and Meizi Zhang, 50, both of Flushing, Queens; and off-duty NYPD Officer Emilia Rennhack, 30, of Deer Park.

Family members of several victims and officers with the 102nd Precinct, where Rennhack worked, attended the arraignment, declining to comment afterward.

Bopp said Schwally, a retiree who worked for a private security firm, crashed his 2020 Chevy Traverse into the front of Hawaii Nail & Spa on Grand Boulevard at about 4:32 p.m. Friday after first pulling into a shopping center across the street and circling around a Kohl’s and Stop & Shop.

Schwally positioned his car southbound in front of the Stop & Shop, then accelerated to a “high rate of speed” in the opposite lane of traffic in that busy parking lot, nearly striking customers outside both stores before crossing over Grand Boulevard, going airborne and striking a curb as he continued toward the salon, Bopp said.

“The parking lot [for Stop & Shop] was flooded with cars and pedestrians walking to and from their cars,” Bopp said, adding that the incident was captured by store surveillance cameras. “He nearly struck pedestrians in the crosswalk and drove around another car.”

Inside the salon, customers sat in chairs receiving treatments while others waited on a bench near the window as Schwally’s vehicle came speeding toward them, the prosecutor said.

"[His] vehicle blasted through the front window of the salon, plowing through those individuals before crashing into the back wall of the business and coming to a rest,” Bopp said.

The prosecutor said Schwally consented to a blood test, the results of which are still pending. He did not say how fast the SUV was traveling. A district attorney's spokesperson declined to share further details from the ongoing investigation.

Bopp added that Schwally, who he said bounces between hotels and has been living at the Commack Motor Inn since leaving a family house in Dix Hills last year, told officers he stopped drinking around 4 that morning. His speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and glassy and the smell of alcohol emanated from his breath, police said in a criminal complaint filed with the court.

The prosecutor said Schwally was headed west on Grand Boulevard before he turned into the Kohl’s shopping center minutes before the crash. He did not say where Schwally was drinking the night before or what he was doing in the 12½ hours between the crash and the time he told police he stopped drinking.

A surveillance camera outside a liquor store next to the salon captured the crash and even the sounds of Schwally loudly accelerating in the parking lot across the street, Bopp said.

A Legal Aid attorney who handled his arraignment said Schwally is a Marine veteran who has lived in Suffolk County for 50 years, including 40 years in a family home on Millet Street that was sold last year, the attorney said.

Property records show the home was owned by Schwally’s parents, Mary and Anthony Schwally, who died in 2016 and 2022, respectively. It was sold following his father’s death, records show. The father's estate was divided among Steven Schwally and his two brothers, court records show.

Police said four people were treated at hospitals for serious but non-life-threatening injuries from the crash: shop co-owner Wen Jun Cheng, 35, of Bayside, who is married to Chen; Nicole Miele, 54, of Dix Hills; Ana Garcia, 53, of Bay Shore; and Michael Mehale, 58, of Deer Park.

Five other people, including a 12-year-old girl, were treated at hospitals for less serious injuries, police said.

Records show Schwally pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, in 2014. Schwally received probation and paid a $500 fine in that case. Bopp noted that as a result of that disposition, Schwally’s license had been temporarily suspended for 10 years and one day before Friday's deadly crash.

There were 1,593 crashes into buildings and walls on Long Island from 2018 to 2022, eight of which were fatal, according to the DMV’s Accident Information System database. None of the previous crashes involved multiple fatalities.

Schwally is scheduled to be back in court on Friday.

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