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Queens Chronicle

Howard Beach crash kills one, injures two

Driver faces manslaughter charges; residents say location is a problem

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Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:27 am, Thu Dec 12, 2013.

A horrific car accident, allegedly caused by a driver impaired by alcohol, killed one man and injured two others in Howard Beach very early on Saturday morning.

The accident happened at the intersection of 159th Avenue and 98th Street at around 1 a.m. According to police, a 2006 Ford sedan operated by James Celauro, 23, of Ozone Park, was traveling southbound on 98th Street, entered the intersection and struck a 2001 Saturn, operated by James Sinisi, 38, of Glendale, who was killed.

The force of the accident caused Celauro’s car to jump the curb, barrel through the small brick barrier of a dentist’s office on the corner and hit the front stoop of the building. Sinisi’s car spun down the block and slammed into another parked car. The Saturn was damaged so badly that police needed to use the jaws of life to extract Sinisi from his car. An unidentified passenger riding with Sinisi was also injured.

EMS responded and transported Sinisi, his passenger and Celauro to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where Sinisi died at around 2:15 a.m. and Celauro and Sinisi’s passenger were listed in stable condition.

Police suspected Celauro had been driving drunk. He was later released from the hospital and arrested and arraigned on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and driving while impaired by alcohol, which is a violation less serious than driving while intoxicated typically levied on drivers who have alcohol in their system, but less than the legal blood alcohol content of .08 percent.

Celauro’s lawyer told the Daily News that the suspect had a BAC of .068 when he blew into a handheld tester at the scene, but he declined a more comprehensive test. Police said they drew blood from Celauro at the scene. The assistant district attorney assigned to the case told a judge results of the blood tests were not available Monday morning.

Celauro was being held at Rikers Island on $300,000 bail as of Monday. He had a prior DWI arrest in 2011.

Two days after the crash, the cars are removed, but signs of the wreck remained. Pieces of shattered glass and black-colored shards from the cars littered the road. Damage to the brick wall could clearly be seen and flowers had been tied to a pedestrian crossing sign along 159th Avenue.

According to multiple friends of Sinisi’s family, his mother, a lawyer, lives in the Rockwood Park section of Howard Beach, but the family is originally from Woodhaven, where Sinisi, along with his brother and sister, grew up.

Sinisi lived in Howard Beach until last year when his apartment was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, according to sources who knew the victim. He later moved to Glendale. Sinisi is survived by his wife, mother and siblings.

The accident occurred directly across the street from PS 146 at an intersection that some residents say is dangerous.

There are stop signs on 98th Street, but no traffic controls along 159th Avenue between 95th Street and a traffic light at 101st Street. A number of residents have said they would like to see a four-way stop sign or a traffic light on the corner.

In the criminal complaint, the District Attorney’s Office alleges Celauro ran the stop sign on 98th Street.

Ed Kampermann, a resident of Howard Beach, said he took his concerns to Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who requested the city Department of Transportation look into a four-way stop or traffic light on 98th Street at 157th and 158th avenues, where two-way stops similar to those at 159th Avenue exist. The DOT did a study and decided to not install four-way stops or traffic lights.

Rudy Giuliani, Ulrich’s chief of staff, said the DOT can review the request for 158th Avenue again because it was made more than 18 months ago — in late 2009.

A DOT spokeswoman said there had been no request for additional traffic control at 98th Street and 159th Avenue and there have been no pedestrian fatalities there since at least 2007.

But at least one neighbor says it’s bound to happen.

“It was a ticking time bomb,” said one resident who lives near the scene and did not want to be identified. “Cars speed along the avenue to try to catch the light at 101st Street. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen cars come close to colliding. The fact that this happened, it’s terrible. I hope now the city puts a light here.”

She said she and her neighbors became frustrated about the lack of attention paid to that and other intersections near PS 146.

“We’re always so cynical and say ‘Is it going to take a death for them to do something?’” the resident said. “And here we are. It’s a tragedy.”

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