Baiting Hollow crash victim laid to rest; charges expected

04/26/2011 2:27 PM |

Brian Costello of Mount Sinai “did not see race or status. Had no hate, no jealousy and no anger,” said his brother, Robert Costello.

And he had always wanted to drive a car. In fact, he seemed to have loved everything about cars.

“Can I have the car alarm?” he would ask incessantly, Robert Costello recalled during a funeral eulogy for his brother Tuesday. “Can I have some keys? Robbie, do you have the black car?”

“Yes, Brian,” Robert Costello continued from the altar, choking back tears. “Here are the keys. Here’s the car alarm. Here’s the car.

“Drive home. Be free.”

A tear-soaked gathering of about 70 mourners then slowly broke into cathartic applause inside Infant Jesus R.C. Church on Myrtle Avenue in Port Jefferson.
Brian Costello’s remains were later cremated in a private ceremony.

The 36-year-old man had been riding last Wednesday in a bus operated by Maryhaven Center of Hope, which runs several Long Island facilities for the disabled, when almost the entire length of the vehicle’s driver’s side was crushed by a toppling tractor trailer whose driver had lost control on a hilly curve on Sound Avenue.

Brian Costello, who was a Maryhaven care recipient, died a short time later at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, police said. Eight others, including both drivers, were treated for non-life-threatening injuries at area hospitals and later released, officials said.

Robert Converse, 54, of Bellport was traveling east about a quarter-mile west of Edwards Avenue in Baiting Hollow about 3:15 p.m. when his truck, loaded with gravel, flipped on its side and collided with the bus, scattering gravel across the roadway and into nearby trees.

Mr, Converse was then pulled from the truck’s cab by a Good Samaritan, witnesses told the News-Review. The truck driver appeared to have suffered facial injuries and was bleeding from an ear, they said.

“We saw smoke. The driver of the Jeep was pulling the truck driver out,” said 16-year-old Jaime Rockowitz of Wading River, passenger in a car that had come upon the scene. The driver “was a little out of it. He was staring up in space.”

Although no charges or violations were immediately issued to Mr. Converse, who was driving for Gap Leasing Corp. of East Moriches, police are still searching for clues to what may have caused the crash. Riverhead police expect to present their findings to the Suffolk County District Attorney for review, officials said.

“We’re looking into everything,” Riverhead Detective Sgt. Joseph Loggia said when asked whether the investigation is focusing on the driver or on mechanical failure.

“[Mr. Converse] gave a statement to his actions, as far as what happened, but nothing I would say is incriminating,” Sgt. Loggia said, adding that the investigation will “take time,” in part because of the numerous agencies involved.

Police have ordered a toxicology report to see if the driver had any drugs or alcohol in his system, Sgt. Loggia said.

The post-crash inspection of the truck did not show any mechanical violations, he said.

The Suffolk Police Crime Scene Unit, the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are assisting in the investigation.

According to the Motor Carrier Safety Administration website, Gap Leasing Corp. did have another truck involved in a crash with injuries within the last two years. A manager at Gap Leasing did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

At the time of the crash, the Maryhaven bus, driven by Gary Rosset, 61, of Ridge, was headed west toward the organization’s Port Jefferson headquarters. It was being. Mr. Rosset was not expected to be charged, police said.

“Our hearts go out to the [Costello] family,” said Lou Grossman, a Maryhaven administrator.

Witnesses to the crash said the tractor-trailer had flipped onto its side and that the impact blew out all the windows in the truck’s cab. They also saw EMT workers run down the hill to attend to bus passengers.

“I saw them run over there with a respirator or something,” said witness Greg Scherer, 22, of Shoreham, who was headed west on Sound Avenue in a white Nissan when he came upon the crash. “They were doing CPR on someone on the bus.”

Sound Avenue west of Edwards Avenue remained closed for much of the evening as detectives investigated the cause of the crash.

Riverhead firefighters were called to the scene to wash the area of fuel, which was spilling from one of the vehicles.

Brian Costello is survived by his father, Robert, his mother, Carol, and a brother, Robert.

“The family is at the moment, as you can understand, upset…[but] thanks everybody for their thoughts and prayers,” said the family’s attorney, Brian Odwyre, the morning after the crash.

At the funeral, Robert Costello also said that his brother not only loved his family, but had many friends. “Brian touched the lives of everybody he met,” he said. “If you showed him kindness, he was your friend.”

mwhite@timesreview.com

Staff writers Samantha Brix and Vera Chinese contributed reporting to this article.