Speed was a factor in the head-on crash that killed three people Monday afternoon in Medford, Suffolk police said Tuesday.
Dominick Lopez, 20, crossed the yellow lines and drove a 1995 Honda Civic into the northbound lane of Station Road just before 4:30 p.m., when he struck a 2016 Nissan Pathfinder carrying five members of a family, killing himself, his passenger and a grandmother in the Nissan, police said.
“Witnesses stated that it appeared the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed,” said Suffolk Assistant Police Commissioner Justin Meyers. “Detectives believe that speed was a factor in the crash. The approximate speed Mr. Lopez was traveling is still under investigation.”
Exactly what caused Lopez to veer into oncoming traffic is still under investigation, Meyers said, but detectives do not believe that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash. The force of the crash was such that the Honda’s engine was ejected from the vehicle and was found several feet away from the accident site, police said.
The stretch of roadway where the crash occurred is straight and not considered a dangerous, accident-prone area, Meyers said.
Lopez, of Shirley, and his passenger Derek Buffa, 23, of Mastic Beach were ejected from their car and died at the scene, just north of Tarpon Avenue, police said.
The two were described by friends as car racing aficionados who pushed for an official drag-racing track on Long Island. Lopez built drag cars with his father and Buffa had a business where he modified vehicles for drag-racing, friends said.
Aida Cardenas, 67, of Selden, a rear passenger in the Nissan, was pronounced dead at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue, police said. Her 11-year-old grandson was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for nonlife-threatening injuries and her 1-year-old grandson, who suffered scratches, was taken by Medford Volunteer Ambulance to the hospital, police said.
Hugo Atiencia, 41, the Nissan driver, and his wife, Dianna Arizago, 33, the front passenger, were also taken to Brookhaven Memorial, where the Bellport couple was treated for injuries that were not life-threatening, police said.
A relative of Cardenas, reached at her Tennessee home Monday, called her a “wonderful grandmother” but declined to comment further or provide her full name.
Lopez’s relatives said they were too grief-stricken to comment. Buffa’s family also could not be reached.