Judge drops case against limo driver in crash that killed 4

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Michael Bal­samo

A judge on Wed­nes­day dis­missed crim­i­nally neg­li­gent homi­cide and other charges against a limou­sine driver whose four pas­sen­gers were killed in a crash af­ter leav­ing a vine­yard on Long Is­land.

State Supreme Court Jus­tice Fer­nando Ca­ma­cho found there had been im­proper grand jury tes­ti­mony in the case and dis­missed the in­dict­ment against Car­los Pino.

Pino, 59, had been await­ing trial on an ar­ray of charges, which in­cluded as­sault and reck­less driv­ing of­fenses. He re­fused to an­swer ques­tions from re­porters as he left the court­house Wed­nes­day.

Pino’s at­tor­ney, Leonard Lato, said pros­e­cu­tors “knew all along that this was not a crim­i­nal case” but pre­sented it to a grand jury “rather than have the in­tegrity and ac­tu­ally tell that to the fam­i­lies of these poor girls who died.”

Suf­folk County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Thomas Spota said he was dis­ap­pointed with the judge’s de­ci­sion and vowed to ap­peal, say­ing the judge ig­nored “crit­i­cal and dis­tin­guish­ing facts.”

“Pino, an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­fes­sional limou­sine driver car­ry­ing eight pas­sen­gers, turned blindly into a road­way when his view was com­pletely blocked by an­other car,” Spota said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “Pino was driv­ing a ve­hi­cle he knew or should have known could never make a safe U-turn un­der the cir­cum­stances.”

Au­thor­i­ties have said Pino was try­ing to make a U-turn at an in­ter­sec­tion along Route 48 in Cutchogue af­ter leav­ing a nearby win­ery when a pickup truck broad­sided the limo on July 18, 2015. Brit­tany M. Schul­man, 23, of Smith­town; Lau­ren Baruch, 24, of Smith­town; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy R. Gra­bina, 23, of Com­mack, were killed. Four other women and the limo driver were hos­pi­tal­ized.

Lato had ar­gued in court pa­pers that Pino wasn’t crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble be­cause he did noth­ing more than fail to per­ceive the prox­im­ity of an ap­proach­ing truck as he made the turn. Steven Romeo, the driver whose pickup truck col­lided with the limo, was charged with drunken driv­ing of­fenses, but pros­e­cu­tors said he wasn’t crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble for the crash. A case against him is still pend­ing; Romeo has said he isn’t guilty.

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.

Pino’s at­tor­ney con­cedes 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.”

RANDEE DADDONA/NEWS­DAY VIA AP

Au­thor­i­ties in­ves­ti­gate the scene af­ter a fa­tal crash be­tween a limou­sine and sports util­ity ve­hi­cle Satur­day, July 18, 2015, in Cutchogue, N.Y.

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