A limousine driver has been charged with four counts of criminally negligent homicide in the crash that killed four women who were touring vineyards on Long Island to celebrate a birthday, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Carlos Pino also was charged with four counts of assault, reckless driving and other crimes in the July 18 crash in Cutchogue that killed Brittney Schulman, Lauren Baruch, Stephanie Belli and Amy Grabina, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
The four women were touring vineyards in a limousine to celebrate a friend's birthday when Pino tried to make a U-turn on state Route 48 and was hit by a truck driven by Steven Romeo. Four other women, including a bride-to-be, and both drivers were hurt in the crash.
Romeo, who allegedly told police he had drunk "a few beers" before getting behind the wheel, was arrested on drunken driving charges after the fatal crash. He was also indicted on DWI charges, but a grand jury declined to charge him with manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, Spota said.
"Romeo can be held criminally responsible for driving while intoxicated, but he cannot be held criminally responsible for the crash," Spota said. "The person who is criminally responsible for the crash is Carlos Pino and Carlos Pino alone."
Pino pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday and is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail. His attorney vowed to fight the charges.
"We feel very strongly that there should not be criminal charges here," the attorney said.
An attorney for Romeo said his client feels "gratified and relieved."
The charges come after a reconstruction of the crash concluded that Pino 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 Romeo's vehicle until it was less than 200 feet away.
"Pino failed to take any precaution or action to make sure he could safely enter the westbound traffic lanes; he continued to attempt his U-turn without stopping," Spota said.
Romeo, meanwhile, was traveling between 57 and 61 mph at the time and didn't begin to hit the brakes until the vehicle was just 71 feet from the limousine, which was already blocking the lane.
Prosecutors said that even if Romeo was sober, he would have needed 263 feet to stop — space he didn't have.
"A perfectly sober Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash," Spota said. "An intoxicated Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. It was simply unavoidable from Romeo’s perspective."
The four women who survived the crash have filed civil lawsuits.