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Families of limo crash victims: Stricter state regulations are long overdue

Paul Schulman was watching the news on television last fall when he learned of the limousine crash in upstate Schoharie, where 20 people were killed.

Mr. Schulman of Smithtown, who lost his daughter Brittney in a limo crash on Route 48 in Cutchogue three years earlier, said ‘here we go again.’ 

“Every time it was mentioned on TV and every time it was in the paper they made mention and showed ours as well,” he recalled Sunday.

For Mr. Schulman and the families of Lauren Baruch, Amy Grabina, Stephanie Belli and four other friends who survived the horrific Cutchogue crash, Schoharie was just another reminder of the dangers of limousines and the lack of legislative action that has transpired since that deadly summer evening in 2015.

Family members of the limo passengers gathered at LABS Lane in Smithtown Sunday, a road named for the deceased, to film a video to send to lawmakers in Albany, advocating support for stricter regulations regarding limousine transportation that are included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2019 budget. The families said they are concerned that special lobbying interests in Albany are working tirelessly to strip the budget bill of regulations necessary to ensure the safety of limo passengers and the public — “common sense” measures, as Mr. Schulman described them, that could help prevent another Cutchogue or Schoharie from happening again.

“I don’t need reminders like that,” Mr. Schulman said of Schoharie. “It’s going to happen more and more unless they change the laws. It’s going to happen. We can’t avoid it. But every day of my life I have reminders of what happened.”

Nancy DiMonte of Elwood, whose daughter Joelle was injured but survived the crash, said she reached out to lawmakers soon after learning of the incident in Schoharie.

“I called the governor’s office and said, ‘Can I have an appointment? We need to talk,’ ” Ms. DiMonte recalled.

In a series of meetings with Cuomo representatives, the crash victims’ families were able to help outline reforms that made their way into the proposed executive budget.

On Sunday, Ms. DiMonte pointed to six key points the families would like to see included in the approved budget:

  • A requirement that all limo passengers wear seatbelts.
  • The prohibition of u-turns for limousines.
  • A law that all limo drivers obtain commercial licenses.
  • Stricter limousine registration guidelines.
  • Improved limousine construction.
  • Penalties severe enough to prevent limousine companies and their employees from skirting the law.

“I couldn’t give you a rational explanation why someone would oppose [those regulations] other than money,” Ms. DiMonte said of lobbying efforts the families feel are impacting the actions of state legislators.

Family members and their supporters gathered at JABS Lane in Smithtown to film a video that will be sent to state lawmakers, asking them to consider stricter limousine regulations. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Many of the initiatives included in the Cuomo budget bill have been stripped from the budgets proposed by the state Senate and Assembly. Mr. Cuomo has also backed off his January call for a ban on stretch limousines in the State of New York. These points are likely to be discussed in public hearings in Albany later this year.

Mr. Schulman also pointed to a 126-page grand jury report recommending limousine safety measures that was released by former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office in 2016. While those recommendations made their way to Albany, no action has been taken since, Mr. Schulman said.

No state lawmakers were present at Sunday’s gathering, though some Smithtown and Suffolk County officials, including Comptroller John Kennedy, a candidate for County Executive this fall, lent their voices to the video in support of the proposed legislation.

Mr. Schulman said the video being filmed Sunday was necessary because it has proved impossible to gather all of the people impacted by the 2015 crash for a weekday lobbying effort of their own in Albany. They hope the recording of their words and faces carries even more weight.

Steve Baruch, whose daughter Lauren was also killed in the 2015 crash at the Route 48 intersection with Depot Lane, said each of the proposed reforms are long overdue.

“It’s something that should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “To break it down, limousines [being able] to make u-turns on two-lane highways is the cause and effect of why our daughters lost their lives. That’s something that should have been enacted years ago that’s still out their today.”

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