Year in Review 2023

Year in Review 2023: Crash kills four in Orient, speed limit changes

In February, two cars collided just west of Truman’s Beach, and both vehicles burst into flames. Heath Miller, 47, of Greenport; William Price, 55, of Wilton, Conn.; Peter Smith, 80, of Brooklyn; and Patricia O’Neill, 66, of Brooklyn, all perished in the crash.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Price were traveling westbound on Route 25 in a 2023 Tesla; Dr. Smith and Dr. O’Neill were eastbound in a 2020 Ford Explorer when the cars collided head-on.

The Tesla’s lithium-ion battery caused the fire to burn for more than two hours at temperatures that reached an estimated 4,000 degrees.

“Fire departments had a very difficult time putting it out because it was a lithium battery on an electric vehicle,” Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an interview following the crash. “Usually, with gas engines, they are a lot easier to put out either with water or chemicals. But this fire burned pretty hard and pretty intense.

The chief explained, “[the Tesla] gave off a really heavy gray smoke that was billowing around the accident scene and the wind was blowing it towards the other vehicle, so it made it very difficult for the officers who responded to be able to get near either one of the vehicles because of the intense smoke.”

The tragic accident spurred local citizen Bob Hulsmann to lobby the state Department of Transporta- tion to reduce the speed limit along the Orient-East Marion causeway. “The NYSDOT will lower the 50 MPH speed limit to 40 MPH and replace the signs,” M.T. Vijayendran, the state’s regional traffic engineer wrote in response to Mr. Hulsmann’s letter.

It was a triumph, Mr. Hulsmann knew, that a concerned citizen had written a state agency and gotten results. “I’m very thankful they responded,” he said. “I was surprised they did, but I am grateful.”