By Danny Schrafel
A Huntington man who had just continued his family’s legacy of volunteer firefighting was killed Sunday after being hit by a taxi cab as he was crossing the street.
Police said Ray Sipel, Jr., 30, who was crossing Depot Road eastbound near 20th Street in Huntington Station at 10:45 p.m., was hit by a 2009 Ford Crown Victoria taxi cab traveling southbound on Depot Road. Sipel was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician’s assistant from the medical examiner’s office.
Sipel Jr. had just joined Huntington Manor as a volunteer firefighter this year, continuing a family tradition of service to the community. His father, Raymond Sipel Sr., is a 38-year member of the Huntington Manor department.
Sipel Jr. appeared to relish his service to the fire district and was immersed in its activities in his first year on the force.
A Facebook post on his account from May recalled rushing to a 5:30 a.m. call when a car crashed into a house in Huntington Station. Other posts show him in full dress uniform with his father, preparing to march in the Huntington St. Patrick’s Parade.
“Following in his father’s footsteps, Sipel Jr. joined the Hose Co. No. 1 in February of this year,” Huntington Manor Chief Frank McQuade said Monday. “Sipel Jr. had completed his National Firefighter 1 certification and looked forward to serving his community. This is a tremendous loss to our brother Raymond Sipel Sr., his family and our department. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family in their hour of sorrow.”
Sipel Jr. is survived by his parents, Ray Sr. and Catherine, and daughter, Brianna. He is also survived by his grandmother Carol DiCristo, sister, Jessica Streber, brother, Patrick, and many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Visitation is Friday, Dec. 26 from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station. A firematic service will be held at 8 p.m. at the funeral home during visitation.
A funeral service for Sipel Jr. is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 27 at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 11 Ogden Court, Huntington Station.
Cops Say Cab Driver’s License Suspended Since ’02
Police said that the driver of the taxi, Christian Lopez-Barcelo, has had a suspended driver’s license for more than a decade, yet he was on the road for the Orange and White taxi company when he hit Sipel.
Police said on Monday that Lopez-Barcelo’s license was suspended in 2002 after he failed to pay a fine. That contrasts, though, with the town’s determinations in recent years.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Monday that at the time of the accident, Lopez-Barcelo had a valid taxi operator’s permit, which is administered by the town clerk’s office. In “applying for the permit both this year and last year… he presented a valid driver’s license that passed the town’s motor vehicle check,” Carter added.
The next day, Carter said the town is investigating whether the driver submitted a fraudulent second license to get his permit.
“The license he gave… came back clean when we did the check,” Carter said. “The suspicion is he got a license under a slightly different name, which was clean.”
On Tuesday, Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia suspended Lopez-Barcelo’s taxi permit.
“If this man is allegedly possessing licenses under different names – I don’t have proof of anything – it’s only by what the police say. And I trust what the police say,” Raia said Tuesday. “I feel I have to, in clear conscience, suspend this permit.”
An Orange & White manager on Tuesday defended the driver, stating he had a valid driver’s license, was properly permitted by the town and had a valid school bus operator’s license as well. GPS records also showed that the driver was following the speed limit, the manager said.
He said that the police pulled up the wrong person’s records when they charged him on Sunday – “a total mix-up,” he said.
“You know how many Lopezs there are in Huntington?” the manager said. “They gave the ticket to a Christian Lopez. The driver’s name is Christian Lopez-Barcelo.”
A police spokesman said in response that the department stands by the arrest, and said that, based on the document police were presented after the crash, Lopez-Barcelo was shown to have a suspended license.