I-Team: Dangerous U-Turns, Traffic Light Fight Continue Two Years After Limo Crash

Charges were dropped against the limo driver in October because of a technicality

What to Know

  • Steven Romeo's pickup truck t-boned a stretch limousine in July 2015
  • Four women died in the accident; another four, including a bride-to-be, were hurt
  • The limo driver had also been indicted, but a judge dropped those charges over questions about grand jury testimony impropriety

Two years after four young women died in a limousine crash on Long Island’s North Fork, the NBC 4 New York I-Team has found dangerous U-turns are still happening at the intersection as Southold officials and residents continue to demand a safer turning-arrow traffic light.

“It would definitely go a long ways to helping [prevent accidents],” said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley, pointing out his department has responded to seven crashes as Country Road 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue since January 2016. “They’re usually T-bone intersection accidents where the car makes a turn in front of another vehicle.”

It was that type of accident on July 18, 2015 that killed Brittney Schulman, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli and Amy Grabina. The women were celebrating a birthday and touring area vineyards when their limousine made a U-turn on Country Road 48 and was hit broadside by a pickup truck.

Since then, police have implored limousines and buses not to make the same U-Turn, which is legal if cars can safely turn on the inside lane.

“Limos and anything stretch simply cannot do that on that roadway because of the length of the vehicles, said Flatley.

But on two recent Saturdays, I-Team cameras caught party and tour buses making the turn. Last summer, in a two month stretch, the Suffolk County District Attorney caught 18 limousines and 42 buses doing the same.

The installation of a turning-arrow traffic light could eliminate the danger since it would stop oncoming traffic. It was recommended by the Suffolk County grand jury that investigated the limo crash and endorsed by the district attorney, the Town of Southold, the Southold Fire Chiefs Council and Chief Flatley.

But after multiple studies by Suffolk County traffic engineers, the recommendation was rejected.

“The traffic counts just do not warrant a left turn signal,” said Gil Anderson, Suffolk County commissioner of public works, who said the county must adhere to federal and state requirements for traffic light installation. Traffic count is one of nine factors, called warrants, that must be analyzed.

“If you can meet one of those warrants, that will justify the need for a traffic signal,” he explained, saying the intersection met none of the warrants. Though he admitted to the I-Team that a turn-arrow light would be safer.

“We will continue to keep an eye on this intersection,” he said. “At some point we’re hoping it’ll meet that warrant and we’ll be able to put the signal up.”

“It’s probably going to take another tragedy in order for it to happen,” said Cutchogue resident Susan Tyler. “I don’t understand it.”

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