Charges dropped against limo driver in fatal Cutchogue crash
The case against a limo driver involved in a crash that killed four young women on the North Fork has been dismissed.
A federal judge dropped the charges against Carlos Pino Wednesday morning, saying the indictment was based on a flawed grand jury presentation. The charges included four counts of criminally negligent homicide.
Prosecutors say the Old Bethpage man made a reckless U-turn on County Road 48 in Cutchogue last year. A pickup truck slammed into the limo, which was carrying eight women out for a trip to the wineries. Four of the women - Stephanie Belli, Brittany Shulman, Amy Grabina and Lauren Baruch - were killed.
The truck driver, Steven Romeo, of Southold, was charged with DWI in the case.
Families of the victims sobbed openly as Judge Fernando Camacho announced his decision. He says he had agonized over it more than any other case in his 20 years on the bench.
In an 18-page decision, Judge Camacho says the limo driver wasn't speeding, wasn't drunk or high on drugs and wasn't talking, texting or reading with a cellphone. He says Pino was attempting to make a U-turn at an intersection where U-turns were legal.
"What the district attorney's office has done is, they mislead these families from the beginning into believing that a crime was committed and actually made the situation worse for them," says defense attorney Leonard Lato.
"If I am wrong, I'd like the DA's office to appeal my decision," says Judge Camacho.
The Suffolk DA's Office released a statement saying "There is no evidence that the grand jurors were confused by the thorough, fair and impartial legal instructions given to them by prosecutors. The people will certainly appeal the court's decision."
Lato says an appeal is a "waste of time" and all it will do is prolong the agony for the victims' families. A civil case against Pino is still pending.