A Sag Harbor man was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court last Thursday on charges stemming from an April 16 crash on Route 114 that sent two men to the hospital. According to statements made by those involved, violent road rage between two men led to the incident, with each man pointing the finger at the other as the aggressor.
A third man, one of those hospitalized, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as one of the combatants’ cars veered into oncoming traffic, leading to a head-on collision.
Nicholas S. Spoerl, 57, with Edward Burke Jr., an attorney, at his side, entered not-guilty pleas to the misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
At about noon on the day of the crash, Mr. Spoerl was driving a 2002 Subaru Forrester north on Route 114, with Thomas J. McCabe, 79, of Montauk, in a 2008 Ford Explorer, trailing behind him. The road was particularly busy that day, with a long line of cars headed to Sag Harbor. According to Mr. McCabe, Mr. Spoerl had cut him off on Stephen Hand’s Path, and again when the two cars turned onto Route 114.
According to Mr. Spoerl, Mr. McCabe was tailgating him, just “inches” from his rear bumper. Mr. McCabe told police he was “three car lengths” behind. At the scene, about 1,000 feet north of Hardscrabble Court, an officer quoted Mr. Spoerl as saying, “I jammed on my brakes, he was riding up my ass.”
Both men agreed that Mr. McCabe then swung the Explorer onto the shoulder of the narrow road. Mr. McCabe said he moved onto the shoulder to avoid crashing into the Subaru, and intending to pass it.
At that point the two cars, now moving parallel up 114, began slamming into each other. “He hit my car, so I hit him back. That caused me to go into the other lane,” Mr. Spoerl told police at the scene.
Southbound in “the other lane” was Steven S. Setek, 57, of Wading River, who was on a service call in a 2008 Chevrolet utility truck for his employer, Blue Tides Irrigation. Mr. Setek described to police the moments leading up to the crash. “It reminded me of Nascar,” he said of the tightly bunched northbound traffic, “as if they were all drafting one another. All of a sudden I heard a pop, and a car crashed into me.”
“Airbags went off,” Mr. Setek said. “I smelled fumes, and there was a generator in the truck. I was afraid the truck was going to explode. I tried to get the driver’s-side door open. It wouldn’t open.”
His seatbelt was damaged, and would not release. Neither would the passenger door. Trapped, and facing the real possibility of the truck exploding, Mr. Setek managed to slither under the seatbelt and pull himself through the open window on the driver’s side. Once he was on the asphalt, he lost consciousness.
The East Hampton Fire Department’s heavy rescue squad extracted Mr. Spoerl from the crushed Subaru. According to the accident report, Mr. Spoerl suffered a fractured or dislocated upper leg. He told police later that he had never lost consciousness.
“I came to,” Mr. Setek stated to police a few weeks later, “and I was cold, and the left side of my body was numb. My back hurt. I have pain throughout my body, but no broken bones.”
Both Mr. Spoerl and Mr. Setek were airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.
Mr. McCabe, meanwhile, had managed to pass the Subaru. Looking back into his rearview mirror, expecting to see it, he saw nothing. Concerned that the car had collided with a tree, he told police, he made a U-turn and waited at the scene of the accident for help to arrive.
Police completed their investigation and obtained a warrant for Mr. Spoerl from East Hampton Town Justice Steven Tekulsky on July 6. Mr. Spoerl turned himself in on July 30, and was released without bail by Justice Lisa Rana after his arraignment last Thursday. He is to return to court on Sept. 11.