Off-duty NYPD officer among victims killed in DWI crash at Long Island nail salon

ByMarcus Solis WABC logo
Monday, July 1, 2024
NYPD officer, 3 others dead in crash at Long Island nail salon
NYPD officer Emilia Rennhack's funeral is set for July 5.

DEER PARK, Long Island (WABC) -- An off-duty NYPD police officer is among the four victims killed in a DWI crash at a Long Island nail salon.

Officer Emilia Rennhack, 30, was assigned to the 102nd Precinct in Queens, where her husband is a detective.

Also killed in the crash were Jiancai 'Kenny' Chen, 37, of Bayside, Queens, Yan Xu, 41, of Flushing, Queens, and Meizi Zhang, 50, of Flushing, Queens.

Police say Steven Schwally, 64, was drunk when he plowed an SUV through the Long Island nail salon, killing four people and injuring nine others.

Schwally, of Dix Hills, has been charged with DWI, and additional charges are pending against him.

The crash happened at a Deer Park strip mall Friday just after 4:30 p.m., when authorities say Schwally drove a 2020 Chevy Traverse clear through Hawaii Nail & Spa. The victims who were killed were all inside the store and died at the scene.

Authorities say Schwally was speeding through a parking lot on Commack Road, crossed Grand Boulevard, and slammed into the front entrance of the nail salon, plowing through the length of the store.

"Somebody saw that the man was driving and he came from this parking lot from Kohl's and he was trying to pass somebody, and then they pretty much ran right into the nail salon and you could hear people screaming and yelling," said witness Danielle Tanis.

Nicole Miele, 54, of Dix Hills, Ana Garcia, 53, of Bay Shore, Wen Jun Cheng, 35, of Bayside, Queens, and Michael Mehale, 58, of Deer Park, are all being treated at area hospitals for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Carol Garcia, 23, of Bay Shore, Toni Saccente, 32, of West Islip, Krystal Rodriguez, 37, of Bay Shore, Nicole Saccente, 55, from Cape Coral, Florida, and a 12-year-old girl whose identity is being withheld, were all treated at area hospitals for injuries.

Families and friends of the victims showed up on Saturday - some walking through the piles of rubble to retrieve belongings. By Saturday night, the nail salon was boarded up -- with flowers left outside.

The close-knit community of Deer Park is now reeling over the tragedy.

"Kenny was a gentleman, always accommodated people. Never gave anybody a hard time. Soft-spoken guy who was just a gentleman - he was a friend of mine," said John Vassallo.

Schwally was hospitalized as well with non-life-threatening injuries.

This is not Schwally's first DWI incident. He pleaded guilty to similar charges in Suffolk County in March 2013.

Schwally was sentenced to probation, fined $500 and his license was suspended.

Deer Park Fire Department Assistant Chief Dominic Albanese described a nightmarish scene at the nail salon, with some victims trapped inside.

"It's horrible, it's going to be tough for the community ... tough for the volunteer fire department, but we're going to get through it. (It's) just a horrible thing to see especially at this time of the year with all the good things happening, graduations and what not," Albanese said in a news conference Friday evening.

Outside Hawaii Nail Salon and Spa, there is a gaping hole, and inside, mangled pedicure chairs.

"Yesterday I did my nails. Look, yesterday I did my manicure and pedicure," said a stunned customer, Valerie Fisher.

"My heart dropped because life is so fragile. Life is so so fragile," added Fisher.

Surviving friends and relatives are now left to cope with unbearable pain.

One man Eyewitness News spoke to identified himself as the nail salon owner's brother. He says his sister was married to the other owner, a couple that customers say they love.

"They were really really nice. Really nice people," said Teresa Specht.

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