Suffolk County has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle lawsuits over a car crash in superstorm Sandy in which a county police car hit an SUV at a darkened crossing, killing a female Stony Brook University student who intended to become a physician and injuring three others.
Vishwaja Muppa, 21, a biology major from Edison, N.J. who was a backseat passenger, died at the scene. She was described by friends as a hardworking scholar, who also worked for two years as a student assistant in the office of University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley.
“Nothing makes up for the tragic loss of this beautiful young lady, but under the circumstances the best interest of the family was to put this behind them,” said Anthony J. Emanuel, attorney for the Muppa estate.
Others who are part of the settlement are Jacqueline Dincil who suffered multiple fractures of the pelvis and lumbar spine, some of which are permanent; Tanya Khan, who claimed “severe and permanent injuries;” and Disha Gupta, who suffered permanent injuries to her spinal column and brain which required surgery and extensive medical treatment, according to court papers.
“The legislature is doing the right thing because the actions of the Suffolk County police officer were indefensible,” said Robert Sullivan, attorney for Gupta, who graduated from Stony Brook and is back in India but still in treatment.
Khan’s attorney declined to comment, and Dincil’s lawyer did not return calls for comment.
Those interviewed provided no details how much survivors or the estate of Muppa will receive under the settlement.
The settlement came to light Tuesday when a resolution to authorize $3 million in borrowing to pay part of the settlement was approved by the legislature’s budget and finance committee. Lynne Bizzarro, deputy county attorney, said the total settlement was $7.5 million.
The county self-insures for claims up to $3 million, while a catastrophic policy with an outside insurer handles claims that go higher. A vote of the full legislature on the $3 million borrowing is expected Tuesday.
The accident occurred at the intersection of Rte. 112 and Rte. 347 in Port Jefferson Station at about 1:20 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2012. The storm had knocked out the traffic light and the Ford Crown Victoria police car broadsided the students’ 2002 Toyota Highlander, police said.
The police car, driven by 12-year veteran Officer Rene Garcia, did not have its emergency lights on, police said. Garcia was westbound on Rte. 347, having just responded to storm-related call of a purported fire at Mt. Sinai Middle School.
Police officials could not comment Wednesday about whether the accident resulted in disciplinary action against Garcia.
Superstorm Sandy resulted in 13 deaths on Long Island.