City Island resident Rosemarie Dietz has relived the night of Tuesday, January 19 a thousand times.
Road. Headlights. Boom. Battered chest. Her friend and neighbor Karen Valentino slumped and unconscious. Dietz walked away from a three-car pileup.
It was 9:50 p.m. Dietz, 52, and Valentino, 42, were headed home to Pell Place, south towards Split Rock Golf Course near the Bartow-Pell Mansion on Shore Road, when a Nissan Pathfinder sports utility vehicle slammed head-on into Valentino’s Pontiac. Dietz was only bruised and frightened but on Monday, January 25, Valentino remained at Jacobi Medical Center in a coma.
John Zeppieri of New Rochelle, 46, who a witness found alone in the back seat of the Nissan, but then fled through the golf course on foot, has been charged with felony assault, felony vehicular assault, driving while under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving and leaving the scene of the crash.
“We’re on Shore Road,” Dietz remembered. “Then all of a sudden I see headlights. I think, ‘I’m going to die.’ We crash. The air bags explode.”
The Pontiac stopped and Dietz turned to check on Valentino.
“Her head was in the airbag,” Dietz said. “I called out her name. She didn’t answer. There was blood coming down her nose.”
The front-end of the Pontiac crumpled. A witness found Valentino comatose. The mother of two was transported to Jacobi, where she underwent surgery for head trauma.
The Nissan, registered to Zeppieri, went airborne, landed on its roof and slid into a light post, a witness told police. When the witness approached the Nissan, she heard loud music and asked Zeppieri to get out.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he responded.
Zeppieri turned off the music, turned his keys in the ignition and started the engine, the witness said. She asked for his name and Zeppieri replied, “Reynaldo.” When the witness asked Zeppieri to stay put, he attempted to walk away, she said.
Another witness had Zeppieri sit on the curb but moments later the dazed man disappeared. He left no personal or insurance information. Zeppieri reappeared from a wooded area a quarter-mile away and approached a Pelham Manor cop.
“I was driving the car,” he allegedly told the cop. “Is everyone okay?”
Zeppieri, who allegedly admitted to have had two beers, smelled of booze, had bloodshot eyes and swayed, the cop said. Breath and urine tests performed two and a half hours later put Zeppieri’s blood alcohol content at .069. The legal limit is .08.
A Toyota Corolla was also involved in the crash. Eric Winkle suffered a lacerated hand and was transported to Jacobi Medical Center. He was initially unable to move his hand.
Physicians have kept Valentino unconscious to help her brain heal, husband Anthony Valentino said. She had to be cut from the Pontiac, he explained. Valentino also suffered a broken arm. Her husband doesn’t know what to expect.
“We have to wait and see,” he said. “We visit every day.”
Dietz has a bruised chest and is afraid to go to sleep.
“I get anxious at night,” she said. “Even though I passed all the tests at the hospital, I worry that if I close my eyes, I’ll die.”
Dietz and Valentino had just seen the film It’s Complicated, before the accident.
“It happened so fast,” Dietz said. “I hope [Valentino] is going to be okay. She has two children who need her.”
Dietz had harsh words for drunk drivers.
“Take a cab home,” she said. “Don’t get behind the wheel. Risk your own life if you want. Don’t put innocent people at risk.”
She and Valentino would be dead today if they hadn’t worn seatbelts, Dietz said.
Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@c
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