CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. — A judge dropped the criminal charges against a limousine driver in the fatal crash in wine country that killed four women last year.
Four other people were injured in the July 2015 crash in Cutchogue.
Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho ruled Wednesday that an indictment charging driver Carlos Pino was flawed because of improper grand jury testimony.
Pino, 58, faced 16 counts that include criminally negligent homicide, assault, reckless driving and other traffic violations. Though he doesn't face any criminal charges, several families have sued Pino for wrongful death.
Prosecutors contended the grand jury testimony was proper, but the judge disagreed.
"The People will certainly appeal the Court's decision," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
The judge explained his decision to the victims' families, saying he has "agonized over this decision more than any other" and that he believes his decision is right.
"If I am wrong, I would like the DA's office to appeal my decision, but I don't think I am wrong," the judge said to the families, according to Newsday.
The District Attorney office released a statement Wednesday, stating they were "extremely disappointed" on the judge's decision.
"Pino’s actions were far from just careless. Pino, an experienced professional limousine driver carrying eight passengers, turned blindly into a roadway when his view was completely blocked by another car. Pino was driving a vehicle he knew or should have known could never make a safe U-turn under the circumstances. Justice Camacho’s decision appears to ignore this critical and distinguishing fact. Simply because others made the turn without harm did not make doing so safe or lawful when done blindly as Pino did.
There is no evidence that the grand jurors were confused by the thorough, fair and impartial legal instructions given to them by prosecutors. The grand jury with the benefit of hearing the testimony of numerous witnesses, including from crash reconstruction experts, reached their decision. The grand jury found that Pino’s heedlessly executed U-turn was serious enough to 'constitute conduct that should be condemned' by an indictment."
Authorities said Pino was driving eight women returning from a wine tasting when he tried to make a U-turn at an intersection. A pickup truck broadsided the limo.
Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, both of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack, were killed in the crash. Four others were also injured.
The truck driver, Steven Romeo, 55, was charged with driving while intoxicated despite being below the legal blood-alcohol limit at the time he was tested.
However, prosecutors later determined Romeo was not criminally responsible for the fatal crash.
Romeo, who was driving 55 miles per hour, was just 200 feet away from the limo by the time it was visible to him, leaving him just 1.6 seconds to see the vehicle, decide what to do and begin braking, experts said.
"A perfectly sober Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. An intoxicated Steven Romeo could not avoid this crash. Romeo can be held criminally responsible for driving while intoxicated but he cannot be held criminally responsible for the crash," District Attorney Thomas Spota said back in March.AlertMe