A Long Island cab driver whose vehicle struck and killed a volunteer firefighter Sunday night was driving with a license that had been suspended in 2002, police said Monday.
Christian Lopez-Barcelo, 31, was arrested on misdemeanor charges after the crash that killed 30-year-old Huntington Manor firefighter Ray Sipel. His license had been suspended for failing to pay five traffic summonses, according to a Suffolk Police Department sergeant.
Lopez-Barcelo's car struck Sipel as he crossed an intersection, just blocks from the fire house where he had volunteered for less than a year. A number of Sipel's fire department colleagues answered the emergency call late Sunday only to learn later that the victim was one of their own.
Black and purple bunting now covers the entrance to the Huntington Manor department, where Sipel's father had been a member for 38 years.
Leo Pensa, a neighbor of Sipel who has known the family for years, said he felt like one of his own children had been killed. Pensa said he was shocked Lopez-Barcelo was behind the wheel.
"Twelve years!" Pensa said of Lopez-Barcelo's driving suspension. "And he's still driving? That don't make sense."
While his driver's license was suspended, Lopez-Barcelo did have a valid cab driver's permit, said a spokesman for the town of Huntington, which issued the permit.
"We were presented with a driver's license this year that passed a Department of Motor Vehicles check, showing no suspensions," said town spokesman AJ Carter.
According to police, Lopez-Barcelo may have had a second driver's license under another name that he used to obtain the cab driver's permit. Investigators could not say how long Lopez-Barcelo had been driving for Huntington's Orange and White taxi company.
A man at the taxi company's Huntington offices declined to comment and information on his attorney wasn't available.
"Somebody should have known that his license was suspended," said taxi passenger Dwayne Davis.
No one answered the door at Lopez-Barcelo's Huntington Station home.