Stretch limousines, like the one involved in a 2015 Cutchogue crash that killed four women and 2018 Schoharie wreck that killed 20 people, should be equipped with side-impact protection devices and taken off the road after 10 years, according to a New York task force.
The report also proposes that passengers get a pre-trip demonstration showing them how to use seat belts and what to do during an emergency and recommends window break tools and the enhancement of fire extinguisher requirements currently in regulation.
Nancy DiMonte of East Northport, whose daughter Joelle DiMonte was one of four women who survived the 2015 Cutchogue limo crash that also killed four women, is on the state Stretch Limousine Passenger Safety Task Force. She called the report an important tool, though noted that the an inspector general's investigation into the Schoharie wreck hasn't been completed yet.
She said the limousine industry has not been sufficiently regulated. “With our recommendations I believe the industry is going to be very, very safe,” DiMonte said.
In July 2015, a stretch limo, heading east on Route 48 in Cutchogue during a winery tour, made a U-turn and was struck broadside by a pickup truck. Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown; Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack; Brittney Schulman, 23, of Smithtown; and Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park were killed, and four others were injured.
Task force member Ronald Barton, a former state Department of Transportation employee, criticized the recommendations as incomplete because they were released ahead of a state Inspector General's investigation into the Schoharie crash, one of nation’s deadliest traffic crashes of the last 13 years that left 20 people dead. The state task force was created in the aftermath of that stretch limo crash to review safety protocols governing the industry.
Barton, of Otego, who was also on the task force, said the 154 page report fell short because it failed to include investigative findings from the Schoharie crash and failed to take into account how the fatal 2015 North Fork limo crash in Cutchogue occurred.
On Oct. 6, 2018, a Ford Excursion SUV, which had been turned into a stretch limo, sped out of control on a hill and drove into a gully. The driver and 17 passengers were killed, along with two pedestrians.
State authorities said the limousine had brake problems and passengers shouldn’t have been allowed to ride in it. “What caused both accidents could still happen today because we didn’t address any of that,” said Barton, who wrote letters to Inspector General Lucy Lang asking for updates on the investigation but said he did not get any.
A spokesman for Lang wrote: "As with all investigations conducted by this office, our timing is dictated by where the facts lead, however long that may take."
The National Transportation Safety Board previously issued a report saying that ineffective state oversight played a role in the 2018 crash while the owner’s “egregious disregard for safety,” likely caused the brake failure.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, in a statement prepared by her spokesperson, Will Burns, said: “ We look forward to reviewing the Inspector General’s report and taking swift action to implement the appropriate recommendations from both the Task Force and the Inspector General to help ensure safer transportation for New Yorkers,” the statement reads.
The task force's report says it will review any future reports, including the inspector general's report on the Schoharie limousine crash.