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Greenport businessman settles civil suit with $5.5M payout to estate of man he killed in crash

More than seven years after a fatal drunken driving crash in Greenport, the family of Bartolone Miguel will soon be paid nearly $3.6 million in a civil settlement with the man convicted of causing his death, newly filed court records show.

John Costello, who pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in a 2016 plea deal that enabled him to avoid jail time, agreed to the settlement with Mr. Miguel’s estate last August, according to a copy of the agreement made public Friday. The settlement, which is still awaiting a judge’s order before payments can be authorized, will see a pair of insurance carriers pay a total of $5.5 million on behalf of Mr. Costello and his business, Costello Marine Contracting — a third of which will be paid to the law firm handling the case on behalf of Mr. Miguel, who had worked as a farmhand at Pellegrini Vineyards.

Mr. Miguel and housemate Oseas Ramirez were returning home in the rain from a laundromat in Greenport in the early evening hours of Dec. 6, 2014. Mr. Costello was headed in the opposite direction along Main Road, having just left Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic, located across the street from the house Mr. Miguel and Mr. Ramirez rented along with two other men, according to police records and testimony in the civil suit. Mr. Costello was a little more than a mile from returning to his destination in downtown Greenport when his pickup truck tragically collided with the sedan being driven by Mr. Ramirez.

John Costello’s pick-up truck following the Dec. 6, 2014 fatal crash in Greenport. (Credit: A.J. Ryan/Stringer News)

At his Nov. 3, 2016 sentencing, Mr. Costello admitted criminal responsibility for the crash. As part of his plea agreement, he was sentenced to six years’ probation and ordered to pay $500 per month during those six years to Mr. Miguel’s wife, Gladys, who lives with their son, Brian, in the town of San Nicolas, Guatemala. Mr. Costello also paid nearly $5,000 in funeral expenses, court records show. Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho asked Mr. Costello at the sentencing if he was legally drunk the day of the crash.

“That is true,” Mr. Costello responded.

Judge Camacho then asked Mr. Costello if that led him to drive his truck in a way that caused the death of Mr. Miguel.

“That’s correct,” he said. 

Bartolone Miguel was 32 years old at the time of his death.

But at his deposition in the civil case, Mr. Costello, who launched his successful contracting business with his late brother George in 1976, denied consuming more than one pint of beer on the day of the crash. In a January 2021 order partially denying dismissal of some of the claims in the case, Judge George Nolan pointed out that Mr. Costello’s blood alcohol content measured more than twice the legal limit two hours after the incident.

“Despite heavy rainfall and prior alcohol consumption, Mr. Costello was driving at least 44 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone, and at the scene of the accident, Mr. Costello smelled of alcohol, his speech was slurred, and he was combative and verbally insulted police officers,” the judge wrote. “A jury could infer from the circumstances that Mr. Costello’s conduct was wanton and reckless evincing heedlessness and an utter disregard for the safety of others.” 

In his effort to dispute the claim of pain and suffering experienced by Mr. Miguel in the short time between the crash and his death, Mr. Costello hired famed forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, host of the former HBO show “Autopsy,” to review medical records and testimony, court records show. Dr. Baden, who is also well known for his testimony on behalf of the defense in the 1995 murder trial of O.J. Simpson, concluded in a sworn affidavit that Mr. Miguel “lost consciousness immediately after the collision” and therefore did not experience conscious pain and suffering. 

“Mr. Ramirez’s testimony two years later that Mr. Miguel was able to speak to him is misremembered and mistaken,” Dr. Baden wrote.

But in denying the motion to dismiss the claim for conscious pain and suffering, Judge Nolan wrote that Mr. Ramirez’s testimony “creates a conflict” with Dr. Baden’s findings and Mr. Costello’s legal team “failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact.”

The case was settled seven months later on Aug. 25, 2021. Zander Hargrave, the winemaker for Pellegrini Vineyards, served as executor of Mr. Miguel’s estate on behalf of his family in Guatemala.