This past Saturday, July 18, 2015, there was an horrific DWI crash in Cutchogue on Long Island.  An intoxicated driver of a pick up truck that collided with a limousine and killed four women attempted to leave the scene of the accident.  Police reported that the driver of the pick up truck, Carlos Romeo, 55, got out of his truck after the crash and walked approximately 1000 feet, climbed a fence and was walking down an embankment when ordered to stop by Southold Police Officers.  Mr. Romeo was given standardized field sobriety tests and was arrested for DWI.

The accident occurred when Mr. Romeo, who was driving westbound on Route 48, collided with a limousine carrying eight young women who had returned from a local winery and were celebrating a birthday.  The limousine driver attempted to make a U-turn at an intersection, when the limo was broadsided on the passenger side by the pick up truck.  3 of the women were pinned inside the limousine and a fourth died later that day at Peconic Bay Medical Center.  The four women who were killed were identified by Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley as Brittney M. Schulman, 23, of Smithtown, Lauren Baruch, 24, also of Smithtown; Stephanie Belli, 23, of nearby Kings Park; and Amy R. Grabina, 23, of Commack, on the North Shore.

Mr. Romeo has had previous legal problems.  Back in January of 2014, he was operating construction equipment without proper training when a bucket fell off, fatally striking a co-worker.  There is a civil lawsuit pending in that case by the family of the co-worker.  After the July 18th accident, Mr. Romeo was taken to Eastern Long Island Hospital.  At the hospital, blood tests determined that Mr. Romeo’s blood alcohol level was in excess of 0.08%, the legal standard for intoxication in New York, and he was arraigned at his hospital bed, pled not guilty, and was ordered held on $500,000 cash bail or $1 million bond, and charged with one count of misdemeanor DWI, which carries fines of approximately $900.00 and a minimum six month revocation of his driver’s license.  However, Mr. Romeo faces much more severe criminal responsibility than the DWI he is presently charged with, due to the four fatalities and serious injuries of the other young women in the limousine.

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As anyone who drives on the major highways and parkways in the Westchester County area and other counties in the lower Hudson Valley such as I-684, I-287 and I-87, for example) is aware, the average driver on these highways will: follow too closely; change lanes without signaling; approach the rear of another vehicle quickly and change lanes at the last second; drive at an excessive speed; drive while distracted by texting, emailing or speaking on a cell phone, and in general drive aggressively. In an analysis conducted by the Journal News this past week, there was an examination of more than 107,000 vehicle crashes in the Lower Hudson Valley between August 1, 2011 and July 31, 2014. The majority of accidents occur on a straight section of roadway without traffic controls.

25% of crashes are due to rear end collisions. Of those types of accidents, at least half involve a sports utility vehicle. This is not surprising, in that due to the added weight of these vehicles, the stopping distance from application of the brakes to a complete stop is greater than with a lighter passenger vehicle. In these rear end collisions, 15% occurred when the driver was completely stopped, and 14% happened when the motorist was stopping or slowing down in traffic. 16% of traffic accidents in the Hudson Valley occurred at a traffic signal, 7% were at a stop sign and 5% occurred in a no-passing zone. Surprisingly, accidents involving commercial vehicles were involved in only 1 % of the collisions.

The most common accident occurred in clear and dry weather; with a youthful driver returning home from work, driving an SUV; who was driving while distracted or following too closely, and on a Friday.

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Each year, hundreds of truck drivers are killed in rollover accidents across the United States due to a combination of factors. The most prevalent causes are the congested roadways and exit ramps which are antiquated, inadequately lit or designated, and due to truck drivers who are too tired, distracted or overworked. The interstate highway system is in grave need of an overhaul, with crumbling roadways, designs from the 1950’s and the much more substantial burdens of the larger loads carried by a booming trucking industry.

Rollover crashes resulted in more than 50% of the fatalities of truck drivers and their passengers in 2012, despite the fact that rollovers were only 3.3% of all large truck accidents that year. 300 truck drivers or their passengers are killed and 3,000 injured each year in rollover crashes. For the 2.6 million workers in the U.S. who operate trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds, rollover accidents are the number one cause of on the job deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other factors which are contributing to this substantial fatality rate among truck drivers and occupants include outdated highway engineering and ever increasing gridlock as the continuing success of the trucking industry places more burdens on the nation’s aging highways.  Continue reading

The Town of New Castle (Chappaqua), has moved forward with safety improvements at its Roaring Brook Road Metro-North railroad crossing without waiting for federal funding for implementation.  In light of the recent February 3 horrific crash a few miles south at the Commerce Street crossing in Valhalla, in which Edgemont resident and married mother of three Ellen Brody was killed (along with five front car passengers on the northbound Metro North train) when her Mercedes SUV was struck, the issue of railroad crossing safety has become a high priority.

The Roaring Brook Road crossing is one of seventeen railroad crossings in Westchester County, and Putnam County.  Additional railroad crossings are located in Rockland County.  The safest crossings are either tunnels or bridges above the tracks.  However, the cost of such measures can be prohibitive.  The Town of North Castle apparently considered installing an overpass in its development plan in 1963 and again in 1989.  Town officials state that there have been fourteen reported malfunctions of the railroad gates at the Roaring Brook Crossing in the last ten years.  The MTA, responsible for maintenance and operation of the warnings systems, alleges that there have been only nine reported malfunctions in the last five years, but that tests they conducted did not show any defects on those nine occasions.

When gates do not function correctly, the “fail safe” position is that they are supposed to go down and stay in position while the crossing lights remain on.  There have been two reported close calls at the Roaring Brook station this month in which that did not happen.  In one, a Chappaqua resident had to back up quickly when the crossing lights came on and the gates began dropping.  She claims that the train went by five seconds after she got off the tracks; Metro-North states that it was 15 seconds—either way, a very close call.  Earlier in March, a driver from Mount Kisco at the Roaring Brook Station claims she had to break through the gate seconds before a train traveling at 75 miles per hour came into the station.  At that speed, it would take well more than the length of two football fields to stop the train, as the train is travelling at approximately 110 feet per second at 75 miles per hour and it would take several seconds to bring the train to a complete stop.

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Efren Moreano, 20, the driver of the wrong way vehicle on the Sprain Brook Parkway who struck and killed an NYPD detective in the early morning hours of February 28, 2015, has been charged with second degree manslaughter, a class D felony. Mr. Moreano has been in a medically induced coma since the accident. His arraignment was done in the Westchester County Medical Center before Superior Court judge Robert Neary. If and when Mr. Moreano is well enough to participate in the legal proceedings against him, the case will initially be transferred to the Greenburgh Town Court, and if the charges are not reduced to a non-felony (which is very unlikely), the case will then be moved to the Westchester County Court, which has jurisdiction of felonies, unlike town and village Courts.

On February 28, 2015, at approximately 4:00 AM, Mr. Moreano was operating his 2013 Honda Civic northbound in the southbound lanes of the Sprain parkway. Paul Duncan, a 46 year old, seventeen year veteran detective employed by the NYPD and married father of a teenage daughter, was traveling southbound. Mr. Duncan was operating a 2011 Honda Pilot. Apparently, Mr. Moreano had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.11%. The legal limit for intoxication pursuant to the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law is 0.08%. Mr. Duncan died at the scene.

The fatal wrong way crash is the latest in a long line of tragedies on Hudson Valley highways and parkways since 2009. Most notably, in July of 2009, a few miles north of the Duncan tragedy, Diane Schuler, a Cablevision executive who had a BAC of 0.18% (more than double the legal limit of 0.08% and chargeable as an “Aggravated DWI”), drove southbound in the northbound lanes for several miles with her infant daughter, five year old son, and three nieces ages ten and under in the car. Schuler struck a northbound vehicle occupied by three men. The only survivor of this horrific crash was Schuler’s five year old son.

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On February 27, 2015, 46 year old Paul Duncan, a seventeen year veteran of the NYPD and married father of a teenage daughter, was killed in a wrong way crash on the Sprain Brook Parkway, just south of Route 100B in Greenburgh.  Duncan was traveling southbound in a 2011 Honda Pilot shortly before 4:00 AM when his vehicle was struck by a 2013 Honda Civic traveling the wrong way, operated by 20 year old Efren Moreano, a Yonkers resident.  Moreano has been in a medically induced coma since the accident.

The tragic accident last week is at least the third on the Sprain and Taconic Parkways in the last five and a half years, resulting in nine deaths, and one of seven fatal accidents on highways in the region, including the New York State Thruway and I-95.  The crashes on the Taconic include the horrific July 2009 accident in which Diane Shuler, who had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.18% (more than double the legal limit of 0.08%), drove southbound in the northbound lanes for several miles with her infant daughter, five year old son, and three nieces aged 10 and under in the car.  Shuler struck a northbound vehicle occupied by three men.  The only survivor of this tragedy was Shuler’s five year old son.

Improper and misleading signage has been blamed for some of the accidents, although in several, as in the Shuler crash, alcohol was a significant factor.  For example, in August of last year, off duty NYPD officer Richard Christopher was inebriated when he drove his pickup truck the wrong way on the New York State Thruway in Rockland County and struck a Honda CRV operated by an Airmont resident.  Both men were killed in the crash. In March of 2012, Reginald Velez, an off duty Mount Vernon police officer, was killed when he drove in the wrong direction on I-95 in the Bronx (after drinking heavily earlier that evening) and struck a tractor-trailer head on. Continue reading

Ex Olympic decathlon star and TV personality Bruce Jenner, 65, was involved in a serious car crash on February 7, 2015 on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, CA.  In the accident, 69 year old widow Kim Howe was killed, and five others were injured.  The accident occurred when Jenner, who was driving a Cadillac Escalade at approximately 46 miles per hour while towing an ATV vehicle, rear ended a Lexus slowing for a traffic light operated by Ms. Howe, which caused her vehicle to cross over into the opposing lanes of travel, where it was struck by a Hummer.  Part of the accident was captured on video from a California MTA bus’ rear camera.

Although reports are that Jenner will not be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter, his troubles are far from over in this tragic accident.  He may have been distracted by cell phone usage, and worse, the evidence shows that Jenner was following too closely, leaving him almost no time to brake to avoid the horrible collision.  The traffic infraction of following too closely will provide an evidentiary basis for a wrongful death lawsuit by Ms. Howe’s family, and personal injury lawsuits by the other five occupants of the vehicles involved in the crash, which also include a Prius that Jenner reportedly struck as well.

Jenner’s troubles begin with the fact that he reportedly has a meager $250,000 in liability insurance coverage.  Clearly, with assets which are undoubtedly in the millions, this amount of coverage is insufficient to protect those assets.  If Jenner owns homes, (unless some of these properties are jointly owned with his ex-wife Kris Jenner), vehicles (including the Escalade he was in at the time of the fatal accident), stocks, bonds, bank accounts or other liquid assets, these could all be at risk if Jenner was not also protected by an umbrella or other “excess” coverage” above the reported $250,000 policy.

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The National Hockey League was sued by 29 former players in the United States District Court in Minnesota last week, joining several others who brought suit last year against the league contending that the NHL ignored substantial evidence of the long term effects of concussions.  The class action litigation against the NHL is very similar to the massive suit brought by several thousand ex-players and their families, alleging traumatic brain injury and significant degenerative diseases suffered by players from repeated concussions, which, it is contended, the NFL was aware of but chose not to enlighten the players about.  The NFL suit was initially settled in principle last year for approximately $765 million, but ultimately a federal judge determine that the amount was insufficient and the cap on  damages was removed, with no final judicial approval yet.

In the case against the NHL, recent events have moved the case more aggressively.  First, a ten year veteran with a history of concussions, 35 year old Steve Montador, was found dead in his Ontario home on February 15, 2015.  Mr. Montador joins a list of ex NHL players who have died prematurely, confronted by evidence of traumatic brain injury, such as depression and cognitive difficulties.   One month before he died, Mr. Montador retained a lawyer to join the litigation against the NHL, and his brain was donated to science to discover whether he was suffering from chronic traumatic encepholpathy, (CTE), a brain disease brought on by repeated trauma to the brain.  CTE causes deposits of a sticky substance known as “tau”, which interfere with brain function and lead to memory loss, dementia, depression, mood swings, and loss of cognitive abilities.

As in the case of many ex NFL “enforcers” who sought out contact and were unwittingly causing themselves long term damage due to the repeated head trauma they endured, the NHL has seen its own “on ice bodyguards” such as Derek Boogard, Wade Belak (35) and Rick Rypien (27) die prematurely.  These players where known for having regular fist fights with other players, which the league did nothing to discourage, as these battles added to fan interest and only increased TV ratings.  Boogard died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose at age 28 in 2011.  An autopsy revealed substantial CTE, and a brain that appeared to be that of a man more than twice his age.  Boogard’s family did not join the class action against the NHL and have a wrongful death lawsuit against the league.  Mr. Belak and Mr. Rypien died of apparent suicides.

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On February 11, 2015, famed CBS News and “Sixty Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon, 73, (who won 27 Emmy Awards and reported on the Vietnam War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the Gulf War) was killed in a car crash on the West Side Highway near 30th Street.  Simon was riding in a Lincoln Town Car for hire at approximately 7:00 PM, when the 44 year old driver lost control of the vehicle, striking a Mercedes stopped at a red light, and then the median separating southbound traffic from northbound traffic.  Mr. Simon was seated in the rear seat, and was not wearing a seatbelt.  The vehicle was so mangled that emergency personnel were forced to use the “Jaws of Life” to extract Simon from the vehicle.

Mr. Simon never regained consciousness.  He was taken to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center, where he was pronounced dead of blunt force trauma injuries to his head, torso and extremities.  Under the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1229 (c), rear seat adult passengers are not required to wear seat belts.  Additionally, there is an exemption for livery vehicles by which the drivers of these vehicles, and any occupants, are not required to wear seat belts.

New York is one of twenty states which do not have a law mandating rear seat belt usage for adults.  The other twenty eight states and the District of Columbia do require seat belts for rear seat passengers.  For the most part, all states do require either seat belts or car seats for children and infants.

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Watching the Super Bowl last weekend, there was unmistakable irony in light of a recent HBO Real Sports story highlighting the suffering of many of the Chicago Bears players from the historic “Super Bowl Shuffle” team of 1985. For those of us who were football fans at the time, the ’85 Bears, with wonderful personalities such as William “The Refrigerator” Perry (who was so athletic that despite weighing well over 300 pounds, he was utilized by Coach Mike Ditka as a receiver and running back as well as a stellar defensive lineman), and quarterback Jim McMahon, who wore a headband taunting then Commissioner Pete Rozelle, mooned the cameras, and was a certified flake, but also a tremendous competitor and tough as they come, were a joy to behold, even for New York football fans. Further, the talent level of the team was overwhelming, with Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, and great defensive stalwarts such as middle linebacker Mike Singletary and defensive end Richard Dent, to name just a few.

The Real Sports story focuses on the devastating injuries that have been befallen many players on that glorious team, thirty years later, and whether the cost to them was worth their athletic achievements. By now, many know of the tragedy of Dave Duerson, a terrific defensive back on that team (and later the New York Giants) who suffered severe undiagnosed brain injuries during his career. After years of memory loss, depression and loss of cognitive functioning, Duerson ended his life by shooting himself in the chest, so that his brain could be analyzed. As he had anticipated, an autopsy determined that Duerson suffered from significant chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease caused by repeated insults or trauma to the brain, which results in deposits of a sticky substance called “tau”, which interfere with mental function.

Jim McMahon, who is only in his early fifties, describes how he will intend to go to the store from his home, and five minutes later, he is standing in the kitchen having forgotten that he intended to leave or where he was going until his girlfriend reminds him. If he does leave the house, often he can’t remember how to get home. McMahon was asked by Bryant Gumbel if, in light of his present condition, playing football was worth the risks involved, which were never disclosed to the players at that time. McMahon answered with a joking: “people always thought I was crazy anyway”, but it is clear that he was thinking that he might have chosen a different path if he had he been well informed. William Perry, still young, can barely walk anymore, and Richard Dent notes that he is very fearful of losing his memory as his teammates have. Mike Ditka, the hard as nails head coach of the Bears and former tight end for the Dallas Cowboys, stated bluntly that the NFL owes the players who they profited from so mightily to take care of them now, and was definitive in saying he would never want his grandchildren playing football, a startling statement from one of the legends of the game as player, coach and television announcer.

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