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New limo regulations set for approval in wake of tragedies

Days after what would have been Amy Grabina’s 28th birthday, her mother, Mindy, stood alongside Albany lawmakers as they announced a package of bills to strengthen limousine safety regulations in the wake of a tragedy in upstate Schoharie last year that killed 20 people.

Together with several other Long Island families, Ms. Grabina has been tirelessly advocating for reform since she lost her daughter, Amy, in a T-bone limousine crash in Cutchogue in 2015.

“Instead of celebrating with our precious child, we her family stood at Amy’s grave site,” Ms. Grabina said at a press conference held in Albany Tuesday. “What was different for me this year … is I took solace in knowing that Amy’s, Brittney Schulman’s, Lauren Baruch’s and Stephanie Belli’s memory and spirit will live on through this important legislation package.” 

For the families and the four young women who survived the Cutchogue crash, Schoharie was a haunting reminder of a lack of legislative action. Last spring, the families held a rally in Smithtown, filming a video that was sent to state lawmakers and renewing their calls for stricter regulations on limosines. Though some regulations were ultimately passed as part of the state budget last April, those affected on both Long Island and in Schoharie continued their fight.

The new legislation comprises 10 bills that are among the most comprehensive in the country. They will require seatbelts in stretch limousines and mandate that limo drivers have commercial driver’s licenses and consent to pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing. Other bills will require stretch limousines to use commercial GPS devices to help them find appropriate roads for the vehicles and increase penalties for limousine drivers who make illegal U-turns.

The new legislation will also authorize the state Department of Transportation to seize or impound defective stretch limos, create a hotline for passengers to report safety issues, require additional annual verifications of stretch limo drivers’ files and direct a newly formed task force to study additional safety measures, including anti-intrusion bars, roll-over protection, air bags and more.

Following Tuesday’s press conference, all 10 bills passed in both the state assembly and senate and now await approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

In addition to family members impacted by the two devastating crashes, Ms. Grabina said that the four survivors of the Cutchogue collision: Olga Lipets, Alicia Arundel, Joelle DiMonte and Melissa Crai, were a “driving force” behind the advocacy. Ms. Grabina urged anyone who may be riding in a limousine to be “active participants” in the new laws by responsibly wearing seatbelts.

“People are going to be responsible to take these cars to celebrate,” Nancy DiMonte, whose daughter Joelle survived the Cutchogue crash, said in a phone interview Thursday. “It was never regulated. Now there’s protection all over. It’s going to be safer.”

She said the emotional toll has been taxing on her daughter. “We feel accomplished, yet nothing will bring back these young lives,” Ms. DiMonte said.

And their mission will not stop in Albany. “New York is at the forefront here,” Ms. DiMonte said. “We’ve set the groundwork and have already begun the process in Washington,” working with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer.

Ms. Grabina and Kevin Cushing, whose son Patrick was on board the limousine in Schoharie, vowed to remain steadfast in advocating for changes at the federal level. Mr. Cushing said the laws represent a “meaningful legacy” to all the lives lost.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet day,” Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) said during the press conference, commending the families for their bravery. “You have turned an unimaginable tragedy into activism, into dedication and it will save the lives of others,” she said.