What to Know
- Carlos Pino was indicted in March on charges of criminally negligent homicide and other crimes in the July 15 crash
- Four women died in the accident; another four, including a bride-to-be, were hurt
- Members of the victims' families cried out in court Wednesday when they heard the judge's decision
All charges have been dropped against the limousine driver in the July 2015 crash that killed four women who were touring vineyards on Long Island, a judge said Wednesday.
Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho ruled that an indictment charging driver Carlos Pino was flawed because of improper grand jury testimony. Prosecutors contended the grand jury testimony was proper, but the judge disagreed.
The courtroom erupted in uproar from victims' families, who were seated in the jury box facing the judge as he announced his decision. One relative yelled, "How could you look at him and do this? He doesn't deserve it!"
Pino was indicted in March on four counts of criminally negligent homicide, four counts of assault, reckless driving and other crimes in the Cutchogue crash that killed Brittney Schulman, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli and Amy Grabina. All of them were in their early 20s.
The four women were touring vineyards in a limousine when Pino tried to make a U-turn on state Route 48 and was hit by a truck driven by an alleged drunk driver. Four other women, including a bride-to-be, and both drivers were hurt in the crash.
The charges against Pino stemmed from a reconstruction of the crash that concluded he tried to make a U-turn on the highway while his view was obstructed by a Jeep Liberty in an opposite U-turn lane.
Authorities said there was no evidence that the limousine came to a stop to check for oncoming traffic and that Pino couldn't have seen the truck until it was less than 200 feet away.
In dropping the charges Wednesday, Camacho said, "I have agonized over this decision more than any other in my 20 years. I applied the law as I believed it to be. I am sorry for your loss."
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota pledged to appeal.
Pino left court without commenting.
His lawyer, Brendan Ahern, said his client never should have been indicted.
"On Day 1, we told you the lines between civil and criminal liability were blurred here. Today, with this decision the lines are crystal clear," Ahern said. "We are grateful that the case was before a Judge who is well respected for his experienced, ethics, and knowledge of the law, who issued a decision based on the law, and the law alone."
Pino is the defendant in several lawsuits brought by the families of the women who were killed and injured in the crash. Family members of some of the victims attended the court proceeding Wednesday but declined to comment.
Ahern conceded that his client, as well as the truck driver, might have liability in the civil cases.
"He should've seen the oncoming car," Lato said. "Was there civil liability? Yes. Was it a criminal case? No."
Steven Romeo, the truck driver who hit Pino's limousine, allegedly told police he had drunk "a few beers" before getting behind the wheel. He was later indicted on DWI charges, but a grand jury declined to charge him with manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. The judge's ruling did upload misdemeanor drunk driving charges against Romeo, but the district attorney has said he was not to blame for the crash.
The four women who survived the crash have filed civil lawsuits.