DA: Driver in fatal crash walked away from scene, hopped fence

thomas Spota

Steven Romeo, the alleged drunk driver in Saturday’s fatal limousine crash, may also face a charge related to leaving the scene of the crash, law enforcement officials said. 

At a Monday afternoon press conference at the Peconic Community Center, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said Mr. Romeo, 55, of Peconic stayed for about 15 minutes after the crash, which claimed the lives of four young women and injured four more. Police were later notified that he had walked away from the scene. He allegedly climbed a six-foot fence and was found making his was down an embankment on the Cutchogue Waste Transfer Station property, Mr. Spota said.

A police officer followed after him and brought him back to the scene, Mr. Spota said.

The district attorney said a lot of variables will determine if prosecutors will charge Mr. Romeo with leaving the scene.

“Essentially the law is not just walking away, you have to give certain information to the police department,” he said. “That’s something we are investigating, whether he was going to return or not.

“It’s not as clear as one might think.”

Mr. Romeo’s attorney, Dan O’Brien of Nesconset, had denied that his client left the scene when asked about that allegation Sunday.

Mr. Romeo is currently facing a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge, but prosecutors have said they expect the charges to be “upgraded significantly.”

Cash bail was set at $500,000 for Mr. Romeo at a bedside arraignment at Eastern Long Island Hospital Sunday. Court officials said he has not posted bail and the hospital declined to release his condition.

Mr. Spota said that Mr. Romeo suffered a broken nose in the crash.

The district attorney said the eight women had been picked up by the limousine from a house in Smithtown. They spent about an hour at the LiV distillery in Baiting Hollow before heading to Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

LiV owner Rich Stabile said the women seemed to be enjoying their time on the North Fork before the crash.

“They were a beautiful group of girls having a great time,” he said. “They seemed to be having a great start to their day. It’s such a sad story.”

Steve Romeo Dimon Marine

Law enforcement officials said the limo driver was attempting to make a u-turn at the intersection of Route 48 and Depot Lane, when they were struck by Mr. Romeo’s truck. Mr. Spota said Mr. Romeo had worked that morning and admitted to drinking beer at his house in the hours before the crash. He did not say where Mr. Romeo was headed.

Mr. Spota said the group of friends had done the appropriate thing by hiring a driver for the day, but still suffered a tragedy.

“They wanted to act responsibly and they did the responsible thing by not choosing to drive drunk,” he said.

Police chief Martin Flatley said police have issued summonses to limo drivers in the past for “failing to yield the right of way” at that intersection, but that the driver in Saturday’s crash followed the law. A chemical test revealed the driver, Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, had not consumed alcohol before the crash.

Mr. Spota said investigators are still interviewing witnesses and trying to ascertain certain details, including how fast Mr. Romeo’s truck was traveling at the time of the crash.

Mr. Flatley added that DWI arrests “are probably up slightly” in Southold Town this summer.

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Captions: Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota (above) at Monday’s press conference in Peconic. Steven Romeo (below) in a 2010 business profile photo from The Suffolk Times.