Fatal Crash Leaves Family Shaken, Puzzled
Christian Bermeo’s family sat around the kitchen table on Tuesday, the night before his wake, telling stories and remembering the 28-year-old. Kiki, as they called him, worked hard as a carpenter, he doted on his 5-year-old son, and he had formed an undeniable bond with his brother’s dog, Hachi.
“We remember life with him,” his oldest brother, Franklin Bermeo, said. “Now we have life without.”
On Sunday evening, Mr. Bermeo left the family’s house on Hollyoak Avenue in Springs on his 2013 Yamaha motorcycle headed for the soccer fields at Stephen Hand’s Path. As he headed south on Springs-Fireplace Road, a yellow 2018 Honda Fit that had been traveling north tried to make a left onto Cedar Ridge Drive, cutting across his lane, according to East Hampton Town police.
Mr. Bermeo was thrown from his motorcycle with such force that he struck a 2014 Nissan sedan heading north on Springs-Fireplace Road. Police received the 911 call at 5:11 p.m.
A video provided to The Star of the aftermath of the accident showed that Mr. Bermeo landed facedown with his left leg wedged under the Nissan. He was wearing a full-face mask helmet, blue shorts, and a yellow T-shirt with his backpack still draped over his shoulders. His body was motionless.
The video shows that even before police arrived, bystanders scrambled to try and lift the Nissan off him. Debris was strewn about. The black motorcycle was mangled. A wheel was in the road. The yellow car was nowhere in sight.
East Hampton Town Police Capt. Chris Anderson said this week that the driver of the car, Susan Israelson, who is 79, kept driving after the collision. The impact to her car’s passenger side caused the side airbags to deploy and her car to spin around so that it was facing north on Springs-Fireplace Road again, he said. She told police later that she did not realize she had been in an accident and did not know why the airbags popped out.
Ms. Israelson had been at a lunch on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton and was on her way to play Scrabble with a friend on Cedar Ridge Drive who has cancer.
“I was driving very slowly because I was aware that this is crazy town,” Ms. Israelson said by phone on Tuesday. She said she was carefully looking out for Cedar Ridge Drive, which she knows comes up after Copeces Lane. As she made the left turn, “all of a sudden out of nowhere, everything exploded. The white thing in front, the passenger bag, exploded,” she said.
Ms. Israelson said she must have been “a little dazed because I kept going toward her house.” She said she was thinking, “I would see her and whatever was wrong would be okay, but as it turns out . . . that unbeknownst to me — totally unbeknownst to me — I didn’t have a flying clue what happened.”
With the airbag curtains covering one side of her car, she continued on, still looking for her destination. Unable to find it, she called the friend from her cellphone. According to Captain Anderson, the friend discerned that Ms. Israelson was on Springs-Fireplace Road and that she had passed her street. She told her to turn around.
“She’s unaware at the time that she’s been struck by the motorcycle,” Captain Anderson said. “Until somebody tells her, ‘The two of you just had an accident,’ she doesn’t know.”
When she got back to Cedar Ridge Drive — four to five minutes later, Captain Anderson guessed — emergency medical personnel were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Mr. Bermeo.
“When she comes back, we have a male say, ‘Stop, stop. You were in an accident,’ ” Captain Anderson said.
“Somebody got out and said something is wrong,” Ms. Israelson said. Her friend, with whom she was still on the phone, came down and sat with her. A detective interviewed her in a police vehicle. She said the police wanted her to go to the hospital.
After interviewing Ms. Israelson at the scene, police asked a Springs ambulance to return to the scene nearly two hours later to take her to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital because she still seemed disoriented. The police captain said it was precautionary on the part of the investigator.
No charges have been filed against Ms. Israelson or the driver of the Nissan, Colin Daley, 34, of Manorville. While the investigation is still continuing, police do not expect to bring any criminal charges because, Captain Anderson said, there is no criminality involved in the case.
He said neither alcohol nor drugs was a factor in the accident. However, police are considering whether speed could be a factor.
The Bermeo family said Mr. Bermeo was a safe driver with a clean license, who had the motorcycle for four years, and they questioned how a driver involved in a fatal accident could leave the scene without any repercussions.
“She’s lost and disoriented and thinks, ‘Something is wrong with my car,’ ” Captain Anderson said. “That doesn’t mean you’re criminally liable.”
At the time of the crash, a friend of the Bermeos happened to be driving a couple of cars behind the Honda. Ten minutes after the accident, he called Franklin Bermeo to tell him what had happened. The friend driving on Springs-Fireplace Road told the Bermeos that a pickup truck had been ahead of the yellow Honda and that the Honda had passed the pickup on the left in order to make the left turn.
Yesterday, Captain Anderson refuted that account. He said the pickup truck had been behind Ms. Israelson’s Honda and that when the Honda went to make the left, the pickup truck passed on the right. Captain Anderson said there is nothing to indicate that Ms. Israelson had passed anyone.
A tire on the pickup truck was blown out by a piece of debris in the crash.
It was not until Ms. Israelson was at the hospital that she was told the motorcyclist had died. “This is absolutely horrifying,” Ms. Israelson, a writer who lives in East Hampton, said on Tuesday. “This is the most horrifying thing that’s ever happened.”
Ms. Israelson and Mr. Bermeo were taken to the same emergency department.
At the hospital, Mayra Bermeo sat alone with her brother’s body for a time, aware that the driver in the accident was also there — a detective went back and forth between the two rooms.
Ms. Bermeo was working in a hospital laboratory when she got a call from a family member that her brother had been in an accident. She charged into the trauma room while doctors and nurses were trying to revive him, but she said she knew when she saw what was going on that her brother was gone.
While Ms. Bermeo sat with her brother’s body, his cousin Cesar Dominguez kept texting Mr. Bermeo’s cellphone from the soccer field, “Are you still coming?”
Ms. Israelson said she is “absolutely distraught” and wrote a note to Mr. Bermeo’s family saying how sorry she is that he died. She gave it to the detective, she said, but the family said they have not received anything yet.
“For us, it is very hard for us to figure out why she is not in jail,” for leaving the scene, Mr. Dominguez said.
“They couldn’t find an excuse for a ticket?” Ms. Bermeo asked.
The family said they are also concerned that Ms. Israelson is still able to drive.
On Tuesday evening, talk at the kitchen table turned to their own experiences of being ticketed for minor infractions over the years.
Franklin Bermeo told a story about his mother being taken away in handcuffs after she left the scene of an accident a number of years ago. She had fallen asleep at the wheel, he said, and knocked down a tree around the corner from their house. She walked home to get him because she was scared. He did not recall the charge.
While Ms. Israelson has not been cited for any traffic infractions, she could be when the investigation is complete, Captain Anderson said. Police are still asking that witnesses they may not have spoken to yet come forward with any information. Detectives can be reached at 631-537-6869. All calls will be kept confidential.
In the Bermeo family home on Tuesday, two candles burned on a table decorated with flowers and photographs of Mr. Bermeo. His siblings and cousin looked at photos that another cousin had brought from Ecuador. Many are of him and his son, Dylan, 5, who lives in Cuenca with Mr. Bermeo’s girlfriend, whom he had planned to marry.
Mr. Bermeo spoke to his son every day, often on FaceTime. His son has been asking why he hasn’t spoken to “Santi,” his nickname for his father. The boy’s mother hasn’t broken the news to him yet. Mr. Bermeo’s brother-in-law, Javier Valverde, said she doesn’t know how. After his maternal great-grandfather died last year, the little boy regressed for a bit and stopped talking.
“For us, it’s full pain,” said Mr. Dominguez, who employed Mr. Bermeo as a carpenter with his company. “How are we going to go every day without him?”
For Christian Bermeo's full obituary, click here.