Woman killed, man pulled from car in fiery Wading River crash

A woman was killed and a man was pulled from a car by Good Samaritans moments before it exploded into flames following a Route 25A crash in Wading River Saturday afternoon.

Michael Gatto, 27, of Rocky Point was traveling east in a 1997 Volkswagen on Route 25A near the Inn and Spa at East Wind, police said, when he crossed over into the westbound lane.

He then hit a 2003 Honda SUV driven by Susan Knoernschild of Mount Sinai, causing her car to turn over on its side, according to police. Ms. Knoernschild was pulled from her car, which had come to a rest in a wooded area, by passing off-duty Riverhead Town Police officer William Bianco. But she died at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, officials said.

Passing motorists Christine Willman of  Wading River and Greg and Patricia Toback of Stony Brook pulled Mr. Gatto from his car before the Volkswagen burst into flames.

Ms. Willman, a teacher in Smithtown, said she was leaving a hair appointment at the East Wind salon when she noticed the wreck and the car ablaze. She said she helped Mr. and Ms. Toback move Mr. Gatto away from the burning car.

“I got out and yelled, ‘Does anyone need help?’ ” she said. “There had to be 15, 20 cars just sitting there, watching.”

She said Mr. Gatto was slipping in and out of consciousness during the ordeal.

“He was in pain,” Ms. Willman said. “I took him, kept him calm.”

Mr. Gatto was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center, where he underwent surgery Saturday and was in stable condition, police said.
Riverhead Police detective Michael Schmidt said he did not know why Mr. Gatto’s car, which came to a rest in the westbound lane, caught fire. Volunteers with the Wading River Fire Department put out the blaze.

Det. Schmidt said Ms. Knoernschild was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

“That’s pretty much what killed her,” he said.

Police are asking anyone with any information on the crash to call detectives at 727-4500, ext. 289.

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