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D.A.: Driver in fatal crash had BAC below legal limit

07/24/2015 11:53 AM |

Spota

District Attorney Thomas Spota said the blood-alcohol content of the driver in Saturday’s fatal crash in Cutchogue was under the legal limit when it was taken after the crash.

However, the DA’s office said they are not planning to reduce the driver’s misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge at this time.

At a roughly 15-minute press conference in Riverside Friday morning, the district attorney said investigators believe the BAC of Peconic resident Steven Romeo, 55, was “most likely” over the legal limit at the time of the crash.

However, according to the D.A., a blood test taken one hour and 40 minutes after the crash revealed that Mr. Romeo’s BAC was 0.066 — under the legal limit of 0.08.

On its own, Mr. Romeo’s BAC levels would be grounds for a driving while ability impaired by drugs or alcohol violation, which is not a criminal charge.

However, that was “only one factor” in the investigation, Mr. Spota said. According to a criminal complaint filed in town court, Mr. Romeo failed several sobriety tests at the scene.

An analysis of whether drugs were in Mr. Romeo’s system also hasn’t been completed, Mr. Spota added.

“We have an emerging, but not complete picture,” he said.

Mr. Romeo was driving a pickup westbound on Route 48 when he hit a limousine on Saturday afternoon. Four women were killed in the crash — three on the scene — and four more were hospitalized.

No breathlyzer test was given at the scene, Mr. Spota said, adding that first responders were first concerned with treating the victims.

“The priority here is trying to save lives,” he said. “In this case, we had eight lives [to save.] … They did the very, very best they could.”

Mr. Spota said it was “not unusual” for authorities to use a blood test — considered to be more accurate than a breathlyzer — to determine blood alcohol content during a serious accident.

Mr. Spota said that other factors such as Mr. Romeo’s height, weight, and what he ate that day would have affected how quickly alcohol left his system after the crash.

Mr. Romeo was charged with DWI on Sunday and arraigned from his hospital bed at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. He pleaded not guilty.

An attorney representing Mr. Romeo appeared in Southold Town Justice Court on Thursday afternoon. Bail for the Peconic man was reduced from$500,000 cash or $1 million bond to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond, with the consent of the prosecutor’s office.

As of Friday morning, Mr. Romeo was still being treated  for a broken nose, Mr. Spota said. It was not clear when he would be released.

Mr. Spota said Mr. Romeo will have to surrender his passport and cannot leave the state without notifying authorities as part of the conditions of his bail. Mr. Spota said he consented to lower bail “based in part on the emerging and clearer picture of what happened.”

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According to the D.A., authorities are still working on a reconstruction of the fatal crash and have spoken to “significant” new witnesses as recently as Friday morning.

Mr. Spota said investigators are also analyzing both Mr. Romeo’s cell phone and the cell phones of the limo driver in the crash.

The driver, who was hospitalized after the crash, had one business and one personal cell phone, the D.A. said. He has been interviewed and is cooperating with authorities, Mr. Spota said; that included consenting to a blood work test.

Investigators have not yet spoken with the four women who survived the crash.

Mr. Spota repeated Friday morning that the limo driver’s U-turn on Route 48 near Depot Lane was legal. He said investigators haven’t determined whether the victims were wearing seatbelts in the limousine at the time of the crash, and are investigating the limo itself as part of the crash analysis.

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