Man suspected of driving drunk in deadly Deer Park nail salon crash arraigned; vigil held

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Tuesday, July 2, 2024
Emotional vigil held in memory of victims killed in Deer Park nail salon crash
Lucy Yang was at the vigil, where hundreds came to mourn the victims.

DEER PARK, Long Island (WABC) -- The man suspected in the drunken driving crash that killed four people in a Long Island nail salon appeared before a judge on Monday as family members of victims shared their anger and grief.

Steven Schwally, 64, is accused of driving drunk and plowing through the front glass door of Hawaii Nail Spa in Deer Park on Friday, killing three beloved staff members and 34-year-old off-duty NYPD Officer Emilia Rennhack, who was getting her nails done for a wedding that night.

The other victims were identified as owner Jiancai "Ken" Chen, 37, of Bayside, Queens, and employees Yan Xu, 41, and Meizi Zhang, 50, both of Flushing, Queens. Nine other people were injured -- including a 12-year-old girl.

Pictured left to right: Jiancai Chen, Emilia Rennhack and Meizi Zhang
Pictured left to right: Jiancai Chen, Emilia Rennhack and Meizi Zhang

Schwally was held on $1 million cash bail at his arraignment Monday afternoon in Central Islip.

Prosecutors say he is a Marine Corps veteran who is living at a Motor Inn in Commack.

He told police he had 18 beers the night before the crash, and stopped drinking at 4 a.m.

Newsday / James Carbone

Prosecutors described him speeding in parking lot and swerving before the crash. They say his speech was slurred, eyes were bloodshot and glassy and his breath smelled of alcohol at the time of his arrest.

Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Alexander Bopp said prosecutors will present the case to a grand jury to consider vehicular homicide charges.

Schwally consented to a blood test, and results are still pending.

Family members released surveillance video from the crash on Monday. Hawaii Nail Spa posted video on their Instagram account,, with the hope that it will help raise support.

The devastated family of Chen, the owner, spoke out on Monday.

"I hope this is a nightmare and I wake up and everything is not real," said the victim's brother, Steven Chen. "I can't believe this happened to my brother - he is such a nice person. We just had a birthday celebration party, not long ago. We were both singing, record a video - we had such a happy family."

Chen leaves behind a wife, who was also injured and is in ICU, and their two young kids.

"The whole family wants to hold the attacker fully accountable," Chen said.

A community memorial continues to grow outside the now-boarded up salon.

Hundreds of people came out to a vigil Monday night to mourn the victims killed in this tragic incident. Together they lit candles, prayed, and made it so clear... this was not just a nail salon; this was a special place where everyone felt at home. Many flashed their last mani pedi.

"Jenny is the one who picked this color," said customer Maurita Coleman-Simpson. "She tried to make it go bright for the summer. I said, 'Jenny, you picked it. I'll go bright for you.' I don't want to take this nail polish off. I don't want to take this off."

Boutique owner Nicole Vergara is in the strip mall next door. She was spared, but the nail salon was not.

"It could've been us. Same situation with the plazas. These people were loving people," Vergara said.

The funeral for Rennhack will be held Saturday on Long Island. The newlywed worked with her husband, a detective, at the 102nd Precinct in Queens.

Schwally is due back in court on July 12.

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