CUTCHOGUE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Is the North Fork of Long Island overwhelmed by wineries?
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, lawmakers and locals say as tourism has risen, so do safety concerns.
A new traffic signal guides drivers through the intersection of Route 48 and Depot Lane in Cutchogue, the site of a limousine crash last July that killed four women on a winery trip and critically injured four others.
Library clerk Brian Mealey is not satisfied with the changes.
“I’ve had several people cut across me going straight through the green light because they didn’t wait properly — because they didn’t have a green arrow indicator — so to me it’s just as dangerous or more,” he said.
McLogan reported the traffic signal is very hard to see, and without a left turn arrow, it still may feel awkward to make a U-turn.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted limousine driver Carlos Pino, 58, who was making a U-turn at that very site on July 18, 2015 when authorities said a pickup truck slammed into the limo and left the winery visitors dead and injured.
Pino was indicted on four charges of criminally negligent homicide, four counts of assault, failure to yield the right of way, reckless driving and other traffic law infractions, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
The pickup truck driver, Steven Romeo, was initially charged with driving while intoxicated. Romeo was also arraigned in Central Islip Wednesday on charges of driving while intoxicated and driving while ability impaired by alcohol, Spota said.
“The limo driver was at fault,” said North Fork homeowner Eileen Lascelle. “He turned when he wasn’t supposed to, and four young girls — beautiful women, are gone. They’re never coming back”
Brittney Schulman, 23, of Smithtown; Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack, were killed.
Spota now wants a grand jury to look into the legality of three-point and five-point U-turns with large stretch limousines.
“Their work is not yet finished,” he said. “They’re going to continue to take testimony concerning the issues of limousine safety and road safety.”
Meanwhile, new signs have been mounted at some North Fork vineyards saying limos are no longer welcome. Signs reading, “Limo restrictions; must make appointments,” have greeted St. Patrick’s Day revelers and March Madness fans.
“I’ve lived here all my life. The roads weren’t like this when we were younger; we had safe roads,” Mealey said. “And now as people enjoy this area more, there is more traffic, and we really have to upgrade the roads.”
Locals want leaders to commission a study of north fork traffic congestion.
The winery scene has exploded to 43 producers from a handful in the 1970s.
Southold town police also recently doubled the number of highway patrol officers in the area from one to two.