Panel calls for limousine regulations after deadly Cutchogue crash

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A special grand jury empaneled by a prosecutor after a fatal limousine crash killed four women leaving a New York winery has issued a report calling for better safety regulations for stretch limousines.

Eight young women were returning from a wine tasting in Cutchogue to celebrate a birthday in July of 2015. Three of the victims -- Stephanie Belli, Brittney Schulman and Lauren Baruch -- had graduated from Smithtown. The fourth, Amy Grabina, graduated from Commack High School. The other four were severely injured in the crash but survived.

The 156-page report examines some of the safety issues raised in the crash, when the limousine attempted to make a U-turn and was struck by a pickup truck.

Police said the driver of the limo, 58-year-old Carlos Pino, of Bethpage, took a wide turn on Route 48 when his limousine was struck broadside by Steven Romeo's pickup truck.

Pino was initially charged with criminally negligent homicide, assault, failure to yield the right of way, reckless driving and other traffic law infractions, but the charges were dismissed earlier this year. Prosecutors have vowed to appeal the ruling.

Romeo was indicted on DWI charges.

The report said cars converted into limos often lack safety components, like side-impact airbags, reinforced rollover protection bars and accessible emergency exits, that are required in smaller vehicles.

"Without sufficient safety standards in place, it is nothing but a fine line between a stretch limousine and a hearse," District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

Limousines built in factories are already required to meet stringent safety regulations, but when cars are converted into limos, safety features are sometimes removed, leading to gaps in safety protocols, the grand jury wrote.

The panel, convened by the Suffolk County district attorney, said that some limousine companies have falsified paperwork with the state Department of Motor Vehicles in order to avoid more stringent inspections required for buses, which under the law are any vehicles that can carry 11 or more passengers.

The panel called on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to assemble a task force on limousine safety and report its findings to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB said in September 2015 that it would investigate limousine crashes on a case-by-case basis. A spokeswoman for Cuomo and an NTSB spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The limousine involved in the 2015 crash on Long Island was originally built as a Lincoln Town car and was "cut in half and then stretched to 120 inches to accommodate 10 occupants," the report said.

RELATED STORIES
* Funeral held for Long Island limousine crash victim Stephanie Belli
* Community mourns victims of limo crash, pray for survivors' recovery
* Funeral mass held for limo crash victim Brittney Schulman
* Funeral service held for Amy Grabina
* Limo crash victim Lauren Baruch mourned by family, friends
* The Investigators: Stretch limos fall through regulatory cracks
* Police: Driver of pickup truck tried to leave scene of limo crash
* Photos: Long Island limo crash

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
Related Topics:
newscrashaccidentlong island newsCutchogue
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