A 94-year-old World War II veteran died Thursday in Huntington Station when his car drifted into the oncoming lanes of Jericho Turnpike and hit a car carrier head on, Suffolk police said.
Salvatore Tornatore, of Huntington Station, was going west near Engelke Avenue when his Cadillac moved slowly from the right lane and into eastbound traffic about 2:30 p.m., said Second Precinct Det. Sgt. Jeffrey Walker.
Speed was not a factor and it appeared something happened to Tornatore right before the crash, the detective said.
"The car just drifted into oncoming traffic," Walker said. "I don't know what happened, whether he fell asleep or had a heart attack . . . If the truck wasn't there, he would have ended up on the curb."
He said the car carrier was transporting several cars, including sport utility vehicles, to a nearby Volkswagen dealership. No vehicles fell off the carrier, and the truck driver was not injured, police said.
Tornatore served as a quartermaster on a destroyer escort in the Pacific and, after the war, he devoted his free time to disabled veterans, from making sure they had clothes to mentoring Vietnam War veterans haunted by their experiences, said Patrick A. Troise of Dix Hills, who is best friends with Tornatore's nephew and became an "adopted" nephew.
A retired IRS investigations agent and a longtime widower without children, Tornatore was on the national board of the Disabled American Veterans National Service Foundation, which raises funds for veterans' needs.
Last October, when the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial was dedicated by President Barack Obama in Washington D.C., Tornatore was in the hospital after a fall but he discharged himself to get to the dedication, his family said.
"He bounced right back," Troise said. "The guy was a tough dude."
But he was also generous, helping friends and family with time and money, relatives said.
Crying Thursday, Troise said they lunched monthly: "I always looked forward to it. He was just a great guy to talk to. Despite his age, it was like talking to your contemporary. He always read the paper, knew what was going on and asked 'What do you need?' "