Witness to fatal crash disputes attorney’s account

Attorney William Keahon outside Southold Town Justice Court following Tuesday's bail hearing. (Credit: Carrie Miller)
Defense attorney William Keahon outside Southold Town Justice Court following Tuesday’s bail hearing. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

A Greenport resident who witnessed the fatal Dec. 5 crash that led to the arrest of local businessman John Costello is disputing a claim by Mr. Costello’s attorney that his client was not at fault. 

At a bail hearing Tuesday, William Keahon, a well-known Suffolk County criminal defense attorney with offices in Hauppauge, said it was the other driver, 22-year-old Oseas Ramirez, who had crossed a double-yellow line before the two cars collided on Route 25 in Greenport.

Mr. Costello maintained his lane of travel the entire time, the attorney told Judge Rudolph Bruer.

“My client is not at fault,” he said, noting that Mr. Ramirez was allegedly driving without a license at the time of the crash, which led to the death of Bartolone Miguel, 32, of Peconic.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, the witness, whose name was redacted from an accident report obtained from police last week but who confirmed to The Suffolk Times that he did in fact see the crash, called Mr. Keahon’s statement “insane.” The witness, who was known to The Suffolk Times prior to the crash, requested that his name not be published.

When asked by a reporter if he saw Mr. Costello, 71, leave his lane of travel, the witness said, “Stevie Wonder could have seen that. It was that obvious.”

In an interview last week, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said Mr. Ramirez had swerved to his left, across the roadway, in an attempt to avoid Mr. Costello’s oncoming truck, which had already crossed into the westbound lane.

“That’s why they hit on the passenger side and not the driver’s side,” Chief Flatley said.

The witness, who said he was driving directly behind Mr. Ramirez, agreed that he was only reacting to Mr. Costello leaving his lane when he began to swerve.

“He was trying to avoid [Mr. Costello],” the witness said. “That’s how it was initiated.”

When first contacted by The Suffolk Times Dec. 10, the witness called the crash “really devastating.”

“A tire [from Mr. Ramirez’s car] went flying into the air,” he said. “I tried to help out as best I could. [Mr. Miguel] was pretty much in shock. He was just staring at me staring at him.”

The man said Mr. Costello exited his vehicle on his own and was holding his neck as he waited for police to arrive.

Assistant district attorney Elizabeth Miller said in court Tuesday that Mr. Costello’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.17 — just over twice the legal limit of 0.08.

That reading was determined through a blood test administered at Eastern Long Island Hospital several hours after the crash, she said.

Ms. Miller, who said prosecutors expect to level more charges against Mr. Costello at a later date, asked that bail be increased to $100,000, but Judge Bruer, who referred to the suspect as a “good friend” of 40 years, opted to maintain bail at $250.

Mr. Costello entered a not guilty plea and is due back in court Jan. 30.

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