'It Could Have Been Me': Friend of Women Killed in Limo Crash Backed Out of Long Island Party at the Last Minute
"She had the most unique and amazing soul you could find in a person," Dana Marie Carlino says about her friend Lauren Baruch who died in a limo accident on Saturday
Dana Marie Carlino had plenty of time to get off work Saturday so that she could join her friends for a day in the sun visiting wineries on Long Island.
Her best friend of 11 years, Lauren Baruch, whom she met at summer camp in the Catskills, hired a limo to take a group of friends around so that they weren’t just driving in style, but being safe at the same time.
“It was going to be a super fun day, but for some reason I just didn’t want to go,” Carlino, 23, tells PEOPLE. “I now can’t stop thinking what if I had.”
After leaving Vineyard 48 around 5 p.m., Baruch and seven of her friends, all in their mid-20s, were hit by a red pickup truck in Cutchogue, New York, nearly ripping the limo in half.
Four of them died, including Baruch.
The day before the outing, a frustrated Baruch had texted Carlino.
“She was upset that I wasn’t coming,” says Carlino, who works at an animal clinic in Hampton Bays, New York. “She texted me to just meet her at the vineyard after work and I could take the limo back with them. The last thing she wrote me was that she loved me.”
So when Saturday came around, Carlino, who was tired after work, decided she definitely wasn’t going to make it.
Following the deadly crash, the truck’s driver, Steven Romeo, 55, of Bethpage, New York, was charged with driving while intoxicated and was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital, according to The New York Times. He is being held on $1 million bond.
“I’m still processing it,” says Carlino. “They had the rest of their amazing lives ahead of them. It could have been me. It should have been me.”
Carlino says that Baruch was an adventurous young woman, so it’s not surprising she organized the trip.
“She would call me at 8 a.m. and already have all of these ideas for what she wanted to do that day,” she says. “The beach, a concert, grabbing mimosas, you name it.”
She was also a hard worker and had three jobs. In the morning she would nanny, then go to her job at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and end her day as a hostess at a restaurant.
“Lauren always found time for everything and was a good friend to everyone,” Carlino says. “Just the other day she said to me, ‘Where’s the sunshine? I need to chase it.’ ”
Last year, they had “the most unforgettable night” when they went to see Above and Beyond at Madison Square Garden.
“She convinced me to sneak down to the floor level of the show,” says Carlino. “She pushed me in the best ways possible.”
Another camp friend couldn’t agree more.
“She had so many friends and everyone just loved her,” says Jessica Van Horn, 25. “You couldn’t have met a more kindhearted person.”
A few years ago, Baruch introduced Carlino to Stephanie Belli, 23, who was another victim in the crash.
“The first thing you noticed was her contagious smile,” she says. “It was so big and sweet. You looked at her and you could just see how nice she was.”
Belli, she says, who worked at Steve Madden, also had a twin sister who she was close with.
Although Carlino isn’t sure the exact reason why they all went to the winery, she’s not surprised they took the trip.
“They were young and it was a beautiful day,” she says. “They just wanted to have a good day.”