ALBANY — A nearly five-year effort by Long Island and upstate families who lost loved ones in two horrific crashes of rented limousines resulted Tuesday in agreement on 10 more laws to make the rides safer.
After hours spent testifying at hearings and months of negotiations on bills, parents could utter only a few words Tuesday at the emotional press conference.
Mindy Grabina of Smithtown said her daughter, Amy who died in the 2015 crash in Cutchogue, would have celebrated her 28th birthday on Sunday.
“Instead of celebrating with our cherished child, we were at her grave site,” said Mindy Grabina, wearning a button with a picture of her daughter and flanked by senators and Assembly members who sponsored the package of bills.
Janet Steenberg, who lost her sons Richard and Axel and Axel’s wife Amy in the 2018 crash in Schoharie County, fought back tears as she walked slowly to the Senate podium.
“I just want to say thank you,” was all she could say.
After nine similar proposals failed in legislative committees in June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and leaders of the Senate and Assembly leaders announced a deal on bills to be voted on and signed Tuesday.
The measures include mandating seat belts for all passengers, a website that customers can use to report problems immediately, the quick immobilizing of a limo that fails safety inspections; drug and alcohol testing of limo drivers; increasing penalties for making U-turns prohibited for limos, and requiring drivers to obtain commercial driver’s licenses with authorization to transport passengers.
The breakthrough among legislators initially was announced last week and came from months of discussion with families who lost relatives in two crashes.
Four women on a winery tour died in 2015 in Cutchogue after the modified Lincoln Town Car they were traveling in made a U-turn and was struck broadside by a pickup truck. In 2018, a limo with a spotty safety record hired as part of a birthday celebration crashed through a Schoharie County intersection leaving 20 dead.
Nancy DiMonte of East Northport, a spokeswoman for the families whose relatives died in the Cutchogue crash, supported the package of bills. Her daughter, Joelle, 29, was seriously injured in the incident.
“I am sitting here just jumping out of my skin,” DiMonte said in a telephone interview moments after the deal was announced. “It’s finally happening! … it’s a wonderful, wonderful package.”
She called the package of bills complete and comprehensive. Legislators and parents said they would continue to explore additional measures such as rearview cameras, air bags and limits on the miles a limo can be used. They also seek federal legislation similar to what was passed Tuesday in Albany.
“We worked hard the last few months and just this past weekend we were on the phone deliberating,” DiMonte said.
Kevin Cushing, father of Patrick Cushing, who was among those killed in the Schoharie County crash, said last week he, too, supported the reforms. On Tuesday, he said the path from grieving to lobbying to save others' lives was "a difficult journey for our collective families," but left a meaningful legacy for their children.
"These comprehensive reforms will give authorities much-needed new powers to get dangerous vehicles off the road, weed out bad actors and put into place common sense safety standards that will increase public safety in every corner of New York,” Cuomo said in a statement. "These horrific crashes that sparked this action shook this state to its very core and we stand with those who lost loved ones in these accidents and worked tirelessly to help prevent future tragedies once and for all."
“We have a duty to families across the state to take action to prevent such senseless tragedy from ever happening again,” said Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck). The task force her bill created will consider additional measures including support bars, roll-over protection, emergency exits.
Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) said the parents’ testimony was moving in hearings, but what hit him hardest was a photo one mother brought of her daughter and her young friends before they took their limo trip.
“And they never came back,” Gaughran said in an interview. “I have pictures like that of my daughters.”