Eyewitness News Investigates: 1 year after Quogue crash that killed 5, traffic study uncompleted

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Thursday, September 1, 2022
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Suffolk County promised a traffic study of a dangerous Quogue intersection after 5 people were killed, but it has not yet been completed. Kristin Thorne has the story.

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- After five people were killed in a head-on crash in Quogue last summer, Suffolk County promised a traffic study of the notoriously dangerous intersection.

An Eyewitness News investigation has found that the study has not yet been completed and, in the meantime, two more serious accidents have happened at the intersection.

"Why is it taking so long?" Nina Kiess asked.

Kiess' son, Ryan, of Manhasset, was one of the five people killed last July at the intersection of Montauk Highway and Quogue Street.

Police said Justin Mendez was speeding westbound when he crossed the double yellow line and slammed head on into the Uber carrying Ryan Kiess, his two friends - brothers from Manhasset - and Kiess' girlfriend.

The Uber driver, Kiess, Michael and James Farrell, as well as Mendez, were all killed. Kiess' girlfriend, Brianna Maglio, suffered traumatic injuries. Her life is forever altered due to the extent of her injuries.

Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne obtained police accident reports from the Quogue Village Police Department which show that two more crashes resembling last year's crash have occurred at the intersection in the past five months.

On June 13 at 2:25 p.m., a driver heading westbound on Montauk Highway almost crashed into an eastbound car head-on after crossing the double yellow line. Eyewitness News obtained surveillance video from a nearby home which shows the westbound car hit the back left passenger side of the other vehicle, which skids off the road. The driver of the eastbound car told police she tried to swerve to avoid a head-on collision. The westbound driver reported to police that he dozed off.

On March 4 at 1:41 p.m., Bill Pirozzi, of Mastic, was hit head-on by a car at the same intersection. Pirozzi was heading westbound when police said Carmine Monteforte III, of Westhampton Beach, crashed into Pirozzi's car after crossing over the double yellow line. Police said Monteforte III was unlicensed and high on drugs at the time. He was arrested.

Eyewitness News reached out to Pirozzi's wife, Pat, who said her husband suffered a shattered knee, broken ribs, broken sternum and a collapsed lung. He spent days in the hospital and now has to do physical therapy everyday, attend doctors' appointments every few weeks and will soon need a knee replacement.

"We are praying this stretch of roadway is modified to ensure the safety for all," Pat Pirozzi said in a text message to Eyewitness News.

In addition, Eyewitness News obtained photos of a car that flipped over at the intersection just one month before last July's tragic crash and found that two people also died at the intersection in 1997.

Shortly after last year's accident, Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Kristin Thorne reached out to a Suffolk County spokesperson to inquire about the status of the traffic study. The spokesperson said on August 4, 2021, "Traffic study commenced last week."

In October 2021, Eyewitness News checked in with Suffolk County again about the traffic study and received no response.

On October 12, 2021, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the results of the traffic study.

"Please be advised that after diligent search, no information was found on file responding to your request," the FOIL response said.

On November 1, Eyewitness News again followed up with Suffolk County about the traffic study, but received no response.

When Eyewitness News reached out to the county in August for this investigation, a county spokesperson responded, "The traffic study is ongoing, but due to pending litigation we cannot comment any further."

Several of the families who lost loved ones in last July's crash are suing Suffolk County for not ensuring a safe roadway.

Suffolk County has made some improvements to the roadway. They cleared trees that were covering the yellow and black arrow sharp curve warning signs as you approach the intersection. They also added flashing speed signs as you head into the intersection and recently added bright white paint to side of the roadway to indicate to drivers they must turn their vehicle. They also added rumble strips to the double yellow line.

"You're already crossing the line if you're hearing the rumble strips," Kurt Kiess said. "You're already on the head on traffic at that point."

The Kiesses want to see more done. They have spent hours upon hours studying the intersection themselves.

Nina Kiess said she thinks more lights should be added to the curve in the road. She pointed out while there are lights close to the intersection, none exist at the actual intersection.

Kurt Kiess said the only thing that will ease his mind about the safety of the intersection is putting in a concrete barrier on Montauk Highway at the curve in the road to prevent cars from crashing head-on. Kiess said he has met with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to share his ideas about how to improve the safety of the intersection and he said Bellone seemed receptive.

Neighbor Grenville Gooder would also like to see more done. He has watched for years accidents and near misses from his home located at the intersection. Gooder tried to help save the victims of last year's crash.

Gooder said he got so frustrated waiting for the county's traffic study after last July's crash that he spent between $1,500 and $2,000 trimming trees and bushes around the intersection.

"It's the county road, but I wasn't seeing anything happening on it," he said. "I'd like to see the traffic study and see what the recommendations would be because, you know, I think we can fix this."

Eyewitness News requested an interview with the chief of the Quogue Village Police Department to discuss the intersection, but he declined.

Village Mayor Robert Treuhold also declined an interview, but said in a statement: "The Trustees, the Police and Volunteer Fire Departments and all those who work for the Village of Quogue, take the safety of its residents and visitors with utmost seriousness. The fatal accident that took five lives and seriously injured another person last year was an enormous tragedy for the victims and their families, as well as for their friends and the many communities of which they were a part. The Village of Quogue mourns their loss and is working with appropriate Suffolk County officials who are responsible for the road to explore what measures can be taken to improve the safety of the stretch of Montauk Highway that runs through our Village."

While the Kiesses wait for the traffic study, they are championing the New York State Grieving Families' Act, which would allow courts to take the impact of a death on a person's family into account during lawsuits. For decades, the law has failed to pass, but now sits on the governor's desk.

Click here to read more about the Grieving Families' Act.

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