CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. – A judge on Wednesday dismissed criminally negligent homicide and other charges against a limousine driver whose four passengers were killed in a crash after leaving a vineyard on Long Island.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho found there had been improper grand jury testimony in the case and dismissed the indictment against Carlos Pino.
Pino, 59, had been awaiting trial on an array of charges, which included assault and reckless driving offenses. He refused to answer questions from reporters as he left the courthouse Wednesday.
Pino's attorney, Leonard Lato, said prosecutors "knew all along that this was not a criminal case" but presented it to a grand jury "rather than have the integrity and actually tell that to the families of these poor girls who died."
A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Authorities have said Pino was trying to make a U-turn at an intersection along Route 48 in Cutchogue after leaving a nearby winery when a pickup truck broadsided the limo on July 18, 2015. Brittany M. Schulman, 23, of Smithtown; Lauren Baruch, 24, of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park; and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack, were killed. Four other women and the limo driver were hospitalized.
Lato had argued in court papers that Pino wasn't criminally responsible because he did nothing more than fail to perceive the proximity of an approaching truck as he made the turn. Steven Romeo, the driver whose pickup truck collided with the limo, was charged with drunken driving offenses, but prosecutors said he wasn't criminally responsible for the crash. A case against him is still pending; Romeo has said he isn't guilty.
Pino is the defendant in several lawsuits brought by the families of the women who were killed and injured in the crash. Family members of some of the victims attended the court proceeding Wednesday but declined to comment.
Pino's attorney concedes that his client, as well as the truck driver, might have liability in the civil cases.
"He should've seen the oncoming car," Lato said. "Was there civil liability? Yes. Was it a criminal case? No."
Associated Press writer Frank Eltman in Mineola, N.Y., contributed to this report.