Limo crash victim Lauren Baruch mourned by family, friends

CUTCHOGUE (WABC) -- Family and friends of Lauren Baruch, one of the four people killed in a limo accident last weekend in Cutchogue, gathered at a church in Kings Park to celebrate her life and mourn her loss on Wednesday.

In the Homily, Baruch, 24, was remembered as a wonderful young woman.

"Family meant world to Lauren, especially mom Felicia, dad Steven, and brother Michael. Her friends meant the world to her too," Rev Thomas Tassone said. "Every friendship she had was a true and good friendship."

He described Baruch as someone who loved to plan special outings, including tickets to the Yankees-Orioles game on Labor Day that she gave to her father for Father's Day and a recent "painting night" with friends and their moms.

"We can see how wonderful Lauren made life around her, how indeed. As her beloved mother said, 'Lauren Lit up the world!'" Tassone said.

Baruch, 24, was among eight women riding in a limo that was T-boned by a pickup truck Saturday. Joelle Dimonte, one of the passengers who survived and the only one out of the hospital, attended the services.

The driver of the pickup truck, 55-year-old Steven Romeo, was charged with DWI, and authorities are weighing whether to upgrade the charges.

The driver of the limo has told investigators that he didn't see the truck when he tried to make a U-turn on County Road 48, but prosecutors said Monday that an eyewitness saw the limo turn directly into the path of the oncoming pickup.

"This is a very, very ongoing investigation," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said two days after the accident on the four-lane highway on the North Fork, which is dotted with vineyards and wineries about 75 to 100 miles east of New York City.

The women were returning from a winery after reportedly celebrating a birthday. They had hired the limousine for their wine-tasting trip to avoid the risks of drinking and driving, only to be injured or killed at the hands of an allegedly drunk driver.

Both the limo driver and the pickup truck driver suffered injuries, but they were not life-threatening. The police chief said Saturday's crash was "one of the worst accidents I've ever seen."

Also killed in the crash were Amy Grabina, Brittney Schulman, and Stephanie Belli, all 23.

The survivors who remain in the hospital are Alicia Arundel, Olga Lipets and Melissa Crai. They were all listed in good condition. Carlos Pino, the driver of the limo, has been released from hospital.

Police said Monday that Romeo tried to walk away from the scene after the crash, staying at the scene for 15 minutes before he was seen walking away. He got about 1,000 feet, climbed over a fence and down an embankment, Spota said, and initially kept walking after a police officer told him to stop. He eventually stopped and was administered a field sobriety test.

Romeo, of Southold, was arraigned Sunday at his hospital bedside at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport on one misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated, and pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond. He is to appear in court again on Friday.

According to court documents, the arresting officer had the following description of Romeo's behavior: "The defendant had a odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, slurred speech, blood-shot glassy eyes and was unsteady on his feet. The defendant failed the standardized field sobriety tests and ARIDE tests administered by the undersigned officer."

The DA said Romeo admitted that he had some beer while doing housework before the accident, but blood test results are still pending.

The Suffolk County Sheriff's Office says Romeo remains hospitalized. He is in the custody of the Sheriff's Office and will be moved to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead when he's discharged.
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