The family and friends of the 28-year-old bicyclist John James Usma-Quintero allegedly struck and killed by a drunk driver in Montauk are calling for justice as they prepare to return his ashes to his Colombia homeland.
Currently, the driver of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, Lisa Rooney, 30, of Montauk, who allegedly struck and killed the victim in the October 30 incident, is charged with a single count of first-time misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana said during Rooney’s arraignment October 31 that there is a great degree of likelihood the charges Rooney is facing could be elevated to the felony level.
Rooney is the daughter of a New York State Supreme Court Justice, Bruna DiBiase, who was in the courtroom October 31 during Rooney’s arraignment. DiBiase sits in the criminal courts division in New York City.
Usma-Quintero had been riding his bicycle up a steep hill on Flamingo Avenue as the sun was setting at the time of his death. Usma-Quintero was headed north to his apartment at Lyckie’s from his job at 7-Eleven in downtown Montauk. Flamingo Avenue is the main road between downtown and the dock area, has a very wide shoulder, and bicyclists are a common sight.
At 6:03 PM, East Hampton Town police say Rooney, headed toward her home in Culloden Shores, veered onto the shoulder, striking Usma-Quintero, and possibly dragging him some distance. The truck, registered to Rooney’s business, Girltauk, did not stop moving along the shoulder, according to police, until it plowed into a guardrail almost 100 yards from where Usma-Quintero was struck with enough force that the rail was ripped from the stanchions. The vehicle was impounded by police as part of the investigation.
Suffolk County prosecutor Jamie Greenwood said during the arraignment that police, who were on scene almost immediately, had interviewed witnesses to the incident. Rooney, police said, admitted being the driver of the pickup.
“I don’t know what happened,” she allegedly told police. “I swerved to avoid a car who was in the middle of the road, and I hit the guardrail.”
She said she did not know she had hit Usma-Quintero until police asked her about the bicyclist. “Is he OK?” she asked police.
Usma-Quintero’s bicycle was described by police as having been “demolished” by the impact of the pickup. According to the incident report, Usma-Quintero suffered a major chest injury and was “severely bleeding.” His physical condition was listed by the arresting officer as “apparent death.” Montauk volunteer ambulance crew members attempted to revive him, but Usma-Quintero was pronounced dead on arrival at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
The incident report specifically cites alcohol as the leading contributing factor in the crash. Police said that, at the scene, Rooney’s speech was slurred, there was a strong odor of alcohol, and that she failed field sobriety tests.
After being placed under arrest, Rooney told police she was not hurt, and was taken to police headquarters, where she allegedly refused to take a breath test. Instead, police obtained a judicial warrant, and she was required to submit to having blood drawn, which is standard in cases involving DWI charges following an accident with a fatality. That blood work will be tested by Suffolk County forensic experts to determine what substances, if any, and in what quantity, were in Rooney’s system at the time blood was drawn.
Back in Montauk, East Hampton Town detectives sealed off the crime scene, and, working with Suffolk County crime lab technicians, meticulously documented the visible evidence of the crash.
Less than 24 hours after his death, a cross had been staked in the ground where Usma-Quintero was struck, topped with bouquets of flowers and a baseball cap. The 28-year-old, who has two daughters in Colombia, arrived in Montauk in April on a work visa. He had been planning on going home soon to see his children, his aunt Mercedes Giaraldo said after Rooney’s arraignment, where she was released on $1000 bail. Usma-Quintero shared an apartment with his aunt.
“A thousand dollars to get out after killing somebody? It doesn’t make sense,” Giaraldo said through a friend, who was translating, after Rooney’s arraignment.
Rana explained before setting bail that her hands have been essentially tied on the matter by the New York State Legislature, which has eliminated bail entirely for drunken driving cases — even those involving death. While that ban on bail technically begins January 1, any bail currently posted will have to be exonerated this December.
East Hampton Town police consider the investigation ongoing, and ask members of the public to contact them if they have information on the incident at 631-537-7575.
There was a memorial visitation of Usma-Quintero at the Yardley & Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton Sunday. His body was to be cremated, and the ashes returned to Colombia.
There were two recent cases out of East Hampton Town, in which drunk drivers were convicted and incarcerated. The victims in both cases, though badly injured, survived.
In Rooney’s case, she could be facing a more serious charge, vehicular manslaughter, depending upon the results of detectives’ investigation and the blood test.
“He did have two daughters he lived for, worked for,” Usma-Quintero’s girlfriend, Valentina Garcia, told The Independent Friday, November 1.
A GoFundMe page has been started to raise money for his daughters and pay for the funeral expenses. The campaign had already raised more than $14,000, from mostly small donations, by Monday morning. The initial goal was $10,000.
On Friday, two of Usma-Quintero’s friends, Erika Uribe and Carolina Lopez, left an inscribed picture of the victim at the roadside memorial. The two women spoke quietly about their departed friend, who was extremely popular in the community. As they spoke, a bicyclist passed by, heading in the same direction as Usma-Quintero the night he was killed.
“It could have been anyone,” Uribe said.