One year later, university remains silent

The bend in Circle Road where Brianna Bifone was hit by police officer Salvatore Casaccio remains unchanged after the accident last year. (RADHIKA SHARMA / THE STATEMAN)

The bend in Circle Road where Brianna Bifone was hit by police officer Salvatore Casaccio remains unchanged after the accident last year. (RADHIKA SHARMA / THE STATEMAN)

When a string of muggings took place in the South P Lot earlier this academic year, the campus was notified. When a student committed suicide last spring, everyone received a text. So why is it that when Brianna Bifone was hit by a police officer and pinned under a cruiser for 30 minutes, the university fell silent?

Bifone was walking down Circle Road almost a year ago, on Feb. 7, 2013, when campus police officer Salvatore Casaccio was responding to a call of a “large group” in the Student Union. Casaccio cut across an entire lane of traffic, jumped the curb and hit Bifone, where she lay pinned under the car in an embankment for about half an hour.

Stony Brook University never publicly released Casaccio’s name, and this is the first time it has appeared in print.

A stretch of Circle Road was blocked off by a swarm of police cars and ambulances, making it impossible for both vehicles and pedestrians to pass. It took about two hours until everything was clear.

Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese spoke to student journalists on site, saying Bifone’s injuries were mild, but she suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision. Bifone subsequently suffered from liver damage and sleep problems, and spent one month in the hospital and time in a wheelchair.

Bifone refused to comment to journalists since the accident happened, but some of her tweets since the accident illustrate her ongoing health struggles.

“It’s getting harder and harder to just keep smiling,” Bifone said on her public Twitter account on Sept. 6, 2013. “So tired of being sick. It’s literally one thing after another with me.”

Since the accident, it was never publicly acknowledged whether officer Casaccio still is employed as a police officer at the university. However, according to Lauren Sheprow, head of media relations at Stony Brook, “the officer involved in the accident, he is no longer employed at Stony Brook University.”

Stony Brook released no official statement to the campus community regarding the Feb. 7 accident. However, during a presentation made to student journalists in October 2013, Assistant Chief of Patrol Eric Olsen said that “in most cases, we release information once the family is notified” when questioned about police practices and procedures.

With no communication from the university, students began to speculate and worry. At the scene, imaginations ran wild and rumors began to spread that it was a shooting and that the girl was dead.

A year later, students still do not have the story straight, while others have not heard about it at all. Kate Dubickas, 22, a marine science major, had heard that Bifone was “crossing the street with headphones in when a cop car with sirens hit her.”

“I definitely noticed that there wasn’t a public apology or any admission of fault on the part of the police,” Jonathon John, 21, an economics major at Stony Brook, said. “It’s obvious mistakes happen, but there are better ways to handle them.”

“People are so sensitive about what they say about police officers because it’s such a ‘heroic’ position,” Dubickas said, “but it doesn’t exempt them from terrible mistakes. I understand the motives behind the university’s cover-up, but it doesn’t justify it or make it at all acceptable.”

“I feel like it’s a breach of community and trust, like they’re trying to cover something up,” Mike Thompson, a senior marine vertebrae biology major at Stony Brook, said. “I do feel like SBU is less like a community because of it, and it isn’t right that we had to find out via the on campus newspaper.”

When asked to comment on why the school was not, and still has not been notified as to what happened that night, Sheprow responded: “There is litigation ongoing; it is University policy not to comment on matters of litigation.”

The case began March 1, 2013, and is pending before Judge Richard Sise. The defendant State of New York is represented by the Officer of the Attorney General of the State of New York. Legal action began on April 8, 2013 and is still ongoing.

“I’m at that point in my recovery where some days are good and some are bad, and the nights usually suck,” Bifone’s Twitter read. “I hate this.”

Bifone retained the Melville law firm of McAndrew, Conboy & Prisco, LLP, who brought a lawsuit on her behalf as plaintiff against the State of New York in the New York Court of Claims. In accordance with state law, legal claims against the state must be instituted only through the Court of Claims.

“She’s not doing too well,” Kevin B. McAndrew, a managing partner at Bifone’s representing law firm, said.

Student arrested after driving car into H Quad bushes

(HANAA' TAMEEZ / THE STATESMAN)

A white sedan crashes into the bushes behind Benedict College sometime after midnight on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. The driver, Christopher Pimentel, was treated at the Stony Brook University hospital shortly after the accident. (HANAA’ TAMEEZ / THE STATESMAN)

 

Stony Brook student Christopher Pimentel was arrested early Friday morning for driving while intoxicated after police found his car in a bush in the H Quad parking lot, according to University Chief of Police Robert Lenahan.

Lenahan said university police responded to a phone call about a car driving down the wrong side of the road without any lights near the athletic fields at approximately 12:10 a.m. The officers found Pimental trying to get his car out of the bushes and asked him to roll down his window.

Based on the initial conversation Pimentel had with the officers, they asked him to step out of his vehicle and the officers came to the conclusion that he was under the influence of alcohol. Pimentel was arrested but did not take a breathalyzer test at the scene of the accident. 

The Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps. transported Pimentel to Stony Brook University Hospital to be treated for intoxication. He was released back into university police custody sometime today and was later transferred to the Suffolk County criminal courts.

SBVAC Vice President Max McDonnell said the organization is not able to make a comment on the accident at this time. 

Pimentel is also a staff photographer for The Statesman.  

5:58 p.m., Oct. 25: University Chief of Police Robert J. Lenahan told The Statesman that the University Police received a complaint about a male student driving down the wrong side of the road near the athletic fields.

The responding officers found the student  trying to get his car out of the bushes into which he crashed. The student appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and was arrested at the scene of the incident. SBVAC arrived at the scene and took him to Stony Brook University Hospital.

12:39 a.m., Oct. 25: After midnight on Friday, Oct. 25, a white car drove into the bushes behind Benedict College in H Quad.

Four police cars and an ambulance were at the scene.

A student who identified herself to the reporter as Shirley said she saw a male on the bed in the back of the ambulance as it drove away.

It is unclear whether or not the driver was a student and if he or she sustained any injuries.

Elite Towing and Transport Inc. arrived at the scene to move the car, according to an Elite Towing employee who identified himself as Herman, but declined to provide his last name to the reporter over the phone.

The University Police could not be reached for comment.

Correction: October 29, 2013 An earlier version of this article misspelled the driver’s name. The correct spelling is Christopher Pimentel, as the article now reflects.

Editorial: Pedestrian safety needs to be taken seriously

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Some sections of Circle Road can even be busy at night. (THE STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)

Walking around campus should not make students question their safety.

The past two semesters have brought to light a common concern for every Stony Brook University student: pedestrian safety. Whether one is commuting from home or living in the dorms, every student walks around campus to get to class, a club meeting or lunch with friends.

When walking to class, students should not have to ask themselves if the car coming toward them will stop when they cross the street.

On a typical day, it is common to spot a car treating a stop sign as a yield sign or a pedestrian who did not even look up from his or her phone before crossing the street. Cyclists and longboarders breeze through intersections without slowing.

Every time this happens, it perpetuates the attitude that the safety at intersections is someone else’s responsibility—that everyone waiting for their turn to cross must immediately stop because a cyclist, driver or longboarder decided he or she is too important to slow down and look both ways.

This needs to stop. We need to end accidents that might have been prevented if people took a few more seconds to make sure the intersection was clear. We need to stop putting people in the hospital because we are in too much of a rush to actually stop at a stop sign.

It is a driver’s responsibility to be aware of his or her surroundings on the road. By passing a road test, it is assumed that a driver can be trusted to follow the rules of the road and drive safely. A violation of those rules can be something as simple as blasting music too loudly or checking a text. Drivers should not be putting themselves into a situation where they are not fully attentive to what is happening while on the road; otherwise, they risk hurting other people.

The intersections on campus are busy and unsafe. Maybe at one time, stop signs and minimal streetlamps were sufficient. But as the student population grows, there are more people crossing intersections more frequently at all times of the day. Until the administration decides that a greater effort is required to make the roadways on campus safe, we are on our own to safely get to where we are headed.

The university’s media relations office responds with some PR move or another after every accident, but no department does anything to actually alleviate the problem. After a police vehicle drove over a lane of traffic and struck Brianna Bifone as she walked on the sidewalk last semester, the university handed out free safety vests. Would she have been able to avoid the car if she wore the vest? No.

If Stony Brook University wants to prevent accidents, it needs to spend resources on the known trouble areas of campus.

One of the most troublesome regions on campus for both drivers and pedestrians is the intersection of West Drive and Circle Road. During rush hour, drivers roll past the stop signs to speed past the pedestrians and other drivers, else they might be stuck there for an extended period of time. Concurrently, pedestrians cross without care, as the cars are forced to wait for all to pass before being able to get past the intersection. A different system needs to be implemented to prevent an over-anxious driver from causing an accident.

Drivers need to stop at stop signs before continuing to drive. Pedestrians need to look up from their phones to check the street as they walk. No one can assume that everyone is going to stop for them or that they can even be seen. Everyone needs to take time to be aware of what is going on. We will all be better for it.

Sincerely-

The Editorial Board

Cyclist pinned under SUV near Nobel Halls

By Rebecca Anzel and Deanna Del Ciello

An SUV hit and pinned a biker near Nobel Halls. (ANUSHA MOOKHERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

An SUV hit and pinned a biker near Nobel Halls. (ANUSHA MOOKHERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

A cyclist was hit and pinned underneath a white Chevrolet SUV at the intersection of Circle Road and Roosevelt Drive at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, according to officials. 

Residential student Robert Capuano, the cyclist, was taken by Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps to Stony Brook University Hospital. According to Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese, the biker sustained minor injuries. It is unclear how long the biker was under the SUV.

The driver, commuter student Anastasia Ambrosio, was evaluated at the scene by the Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps and was not injured, according to Zacarese. 

Lieutenant John Stankaitis said the investigation is ongoing, and Zacarese said more information will be released as it becomes available.

Check back for updates.

10:20 a.m., Sept. 23: As of 7:23 p.m. on Sept. 22, Robert Capuano, the cyclist, was at Stony Brook University Hospital as an admitted patient, according to Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese. Capuano’s class year at Stony Brook and major are still unknown.

The driver of the white Chevrolet SUV was identified by Zacarese on Monday as commuter student Anastasia Ambrosio. “There are no pending charges in this incident,” he said.

7:47 p.m.: Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps President Roxana Mehran said when the biker was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, he or she was in stable condition. Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese said the biker sustained minor injuries. The biker’s identity is still unknown.

Zacarese also said the driver was evaluated at the scene by SBVAC and was found to not be injured.

The time of the accident was confirmed by Zacarese to be at approximately 3:45 p.m.

“The accident remains under investigation,” he said, “and further information will be released as it becomes available.”

The driver of the white SUV, who identifies herself as Anastasia to reporters, fills out paperwork after an accident at the corner of Roosevelt Dr. and Circle Rd on Sept. 21, 2013. Here, she sits at the scene of the accident. (GISELLE BARKLEY / THE STATESMAN)

The driver of the white SUV, identified as Anastasia Ambrosio by Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese, fills out paperwork after an accident at the corner of Roosevelt Dr. and Circle Rd on Sept. 21, 2013. Here, she sits at the scene of the accident. (GISELLE BARKLEY / THE STATESMAN)

5:21 p.m.: The Statesman previously reported the cyclist was heading toward Engineering. It is unclear what direction the biker was heading in.

“I still have more investigating to do,” Lt. Stankaitis said of the incident. “I have to make a couple more notifications.”

The cyclist was pinned underneath the front right tire of the SUV.

The scene has been cleared and traffic flow is normal.

5:05 p.m.: A cyclist was hit and pinned underneath a vehicle at the intersection of Circle Road and Roosevelt Drive earlier this afternoon, according to officials.

The cyclist was hit when approaching the bike path near Engineering by a white Chevrolet SUV. The biker was taken from the scene in an ambulance. It is unclear how long the biker was under the car, the extent of the biker’s injuries or the biker’s identity.

Lieutenant John Stankaitis said the investigation is ongoing and the police are not ready to give a statement.

The driver, a female student who said her name is Anastasia, was not injured.

There was no damage to the SUV. The bike, a Cannondale, was destroyed.

Police are directing traffic at the intersection.

Reporting by Rebecca Anzel and Giselle Barkley

SBU police officer strikes pedestrian with patrol car

A Stony Brook Police Department cruiser is removed from a ditch near the Tabler Residence Quad after an officer struck a female student on the sidewalk. (ANUSHA MOOKERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

A Stony Brook Police Department cruiser is removed from a ditch near the Tabler Residence Quad after an officer struck a female student on the sidewalk. (ANUSHA MOOKERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

A University Police car struck Stony Brook student Brianna Bifone on the sidewalk near the Tabler West Bus Stop on Circle Road at 10:12 p.m. on Thursday while responding to an emergency call, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

The car continued into an embankment, pinning Bifone beneath the rear of the vehicle.

“According to eyewitness reports, the responding vehicle was traveling with its emergency lights activated when it struck a sidewalk which caused it to veer onto the opposite walkway, subsequently striking the student pedestrian,” Chief of Police Robert Lenahan said in a statement.

Daniel Wolbrom, chief of Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SBVAC), said Bifone’s legs were pinned beneath the car for about 30 minutes before she was extricated and moved to an ambulance.

Both Bifone and the police officer were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for evaluation.

Bifone is reported to be in fair condition, while the police officer, who sustained minor injuries, was treated and released from the hospital, Lenahan said.

The identity of the police officer has yet to be released.

The police officer was responding to a call regarding a “large group” at the Student Union when he struck the student, Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese said.

The accident is currently under investigation, but Zacarese said there was no reason to believe the police officer was under the influence at the time of the incident.

The police officer radioed for assistance and emergency vehicles from University Police, Stony Brook Fire Department, Setauket Fire Department, SBVAC and Suffolk County Police Department arrived on the scene.

Check back for updates to the story.