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DWI Charge Remains Against Pickup Driver In Deadly L.I. Limo Crash Despite BAC Being Under Legal Limit

SOUTHOLD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A DWI charge will stand against the pickup truck driver involved in a fatal limousine crash despite the fact that Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota revealed Friday that Steve Romeo's blood alcohol level was below the legal limit.

"His alcohol blood content was 0.066," Spota said. "That is below the legal standard for a charge of driving while intoxicated."

But the district attorney said his office is not reducing the DWI charge to driving while impaired because the blood that was drawn and analyzed was taken more than an hour and a half after the crash.

DA: Pickup Driver's BAC Below Legal Limit After Deadly Limo Crash

Spota said further analysis could reveal that Romeo was legally drunk at the time of impact.

"The forensic toxicologists are telling us now that at the time of the crash, the defendant's blood alcohol was most likely over 0.08," Spota said.

Spota defended first responders for waiting so long to draw Romeo's blood, saying the scene was chaotic and their most important mission was to save lives.

Investigators are also still checking to see if Romeo may have been high on drugs or speeding when his truck T-boned the limo that left four women dead last weekend.

On Thursday, a judge reduced the 55-year-old Romeo's bail from $1 million bond to $100,000, and $500,000 cash to $50,000. He remains hospitalized.

Romeo's attorneys spoke by phone denying their client was drunk, adding he is devastated.

DWI Charge Stands Against Pickup Driver In Deadly Limo Crash

Eight high school friends were returning from a Suffolk County winery Saturday when Romeo's pickup truck slammed into their limo as it attempted to make a U-turn along Route 48 in Cutchogue. In addition to the four women who were killed, four other women and the limo's driver were injured.

Long Island Limo Crash Victims
L-R: Amy Grabina, Stephanie Belli, Lauren Baruch, Brittney Schulman

A witness to the deadly crash told investigators the limo driver turned directly into the path of the oncoming pickup truck. The limo driver, however, told police he never saw the truck coming when he tried to make the turn, Spota said earlier this week.

"It is a tragecy all around," Donna Goggins, of Mattituck, told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan. "But the limo driver made that three-point turn. He made that U-turn."

Investigators are awaiting an accident reconstruction report, which will look at speed, the cellphone activity of both drivers and any other distractions based on further witness testimony.

The final victim, 23-year-old Stephanie Bell, was laid to rest Friday. Funeral services for the other victims -- Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack -- were held earlier this week.

Residents in the area have long complained about the dangerous intersection near the Cutchogue winery, where buses and stretch limos make U-turns on busy Route 48. The turn isn't illegal, but police in Southold say they've been regularly writing tickets to limos in particular whose drivers don't yield before making U-turns.

The limo driver has not been charged.

"Someone needs to be directing traffic when a limo is pulling out with a large number of people, because you know limousines; you are not usually wearing seat belts," said Debbie Peters, of Mattituck.

The limo did have seat belts. It is unclear if any of the women were wearing them -- or if it would have made a difference.

The DA said the four survivors will be interviewed as soon as they are physically and emotionally able.

Victor DiPaola, a retired NYPD sergeant living on Long Island' North Fork, said he and his neighbors are also concerned the safety of limos in general. He worries that by converting Lincoln Town Cars into stretch limousines that they might be stripped of safety issues designed to absorb crashes and making passengers in the middle sitting ducks.

"They take these limousines, and they just stretch them," he said.


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