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Sep 27, 2016 1:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Man Killed In RV Accident Sunday In Hampton Bays Remembered For His Love Of Camping

As of 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night state troopers were still on the scene of an accident involving an RV just west of the Hamptons Bays exit. Westbound traffic was being diverted to Route 24.  DANA SHAW
Sep 27, 2016 4:01 PM

Richard Santos loved camping.

In his spare time, the East Moriches resident enjoyed taking out his 2001 Holm RV and meeting friends at campgrounds across Long Island. Last week, Mr. Santos, 66, brought his luxurious RV—the retired Suffolk County Water Authority employee spent years saving to buy it—to his favorite campground: Hither Hills State Park in Montauk.

He and his wife, Carol, spent four days at the oceanfront park, hanging out around campfires with their friends and fellow parishioners of their home parish, the Presbyterian Church of the Moriches in Center Moriches, according to their son, also named Richard Santos.

His parents were returning home from a long weekend in Montauk late Sunday afternoon—his mother was driving in a car behind the RV, he said—when a tire blew on the RV, causing the elder Mr. Santos to lose control of the vehicle and veer off Sunrise Highway just west of the Hampton Bays exit. The RV continued off the highway, struck a tree and quickly burst into flames, according to State Police Lieutenant Christopher Casale.

Mr. Santos, the only occupant of the RV, was trapped inside the burning vehicle—which one witness said had become trapped between trees—and could not be rescued despite the attempts of Good Samaritans at the scene and, later, police officers and first-responders. He was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

“Some bystanders tried to get in the vehicle, but there was too much smoke,” Lt. Casale said on Monday. “There was no time to do anything. It happened very quickly.”

State Police have impounded the RV for a safety inspection and are still investigating the accident.

One bystander, John Wambold of Southampton, said he was driving approximately 200 yards behind the RV as it was heading west on Sunrise Highway at a little before 5 p.m. Sunday. Mr. Wambold, who was driving with his wife, Melanie, noted that Mr. Santos was not speeding when his RV suddenly veered off the road and into the woods.

“We were going maybe 55 mph and were right behind the RV, which was going about the same speed,” Mr. Wambold said in a phone interview on Sunday, the night of the crash. “Then the RV just veered right, hard, off the road, onto a grassy area between the entrance ramp from Route 24 south, bounced over the entrance ramp, then onto another grassy area, and then crashed into a set of trees in the woods.” He said the speed of the RV remained the same throughout the accident.

He said that he pulled over immediately and dialed 911 at 4:42 p.m. He also said other drivers pulled over and ran over to the RV to see if anyone was injured.

“The RV was wedged between the trees, with the driver’s side door blocked by the trees, so no one could really get to the door, or to the passenger’s side to see what was inside,” Mr. Wambold said. “Within a minute or two, we saw smoke coming from the front of the RV.”

Mr. Wambold said police arrived within two minutes after he made the 911 call and, because trees were blocking the front doors of the RV, one officer pulled his cruiser up to the back window of the RV on the driver’s side and stood on the hood of his vehicle and tried to open a window to pull Mr. Santos from the RV. By this time, Mr. Wambold said, flames could be seen coming from the front of the RV reaching approximately 30 to 40 feet high.

Worried that the RV could explode, Mr. Wambold said he and his wife drove off just as additional police officers and first responders were arriving. “It was very disturbing,” he said.

The accident forced the closure of both westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway for nearly three hours Sunday; both lanes reopened around dusk, according to State Police.

The younger Mr. Santos, who is married with children and also lives in East Moriches, said this week that his father loved camping, noting that he saved for years to buy the RV. He noted that the camper featured leather seats and other amenities.

“He had that RV for about 10 years,” Mr. Santos said. “It was like a smaller house inside. He saved up to buy that motor home. When he finally was able to afford it, he bought a top-of-the-line one.”

Mr. Santos described his father as his best friend, noting that his father served as his best man when he and his wife, Kristen, were married in 2010.

“He [was] more than a father to me,” he said. “In my eyes, he was the nicest gentleman you could ever meet. If you needed anything he would be there, no matter what time it was.”

The elder Mr. Santos was born in Manhattan and, as he grew older, gradually made his way to Eastern Long Island. Shortly after arriving in East Moriches in 1977, he built his own house, his son recalled this week.

In addition to camping, the elder Mr. Santos enjoyed going to New York Yankees games, working on vintage cars and spending time with his golden retriever, Shelby—who is named after Mr. Santos’s favorite car, the Shelby Mustang, a high-performance model of the Ford Mustang that was manufactured in the latter 1960s.

Still, the younger Mr. Santos said his father enjoyed one pastime over all the others.

“He loved going camping,” the son said, “and that’s what he was coming home from—a camping trip in Montauk.”

Mr. Santos added that he is still struggling to accept the fact that his father died in the accident. “It wasn’t his time to go,” he said.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Santos is also survived by a daughter, Carrie Santos-Terry of Center Moriches; and three grandchildren, Kaitlynn, 4, and Khloe, 3, both of East Moriches, and Michael, 10, of Center Moriches.

Wake and funeral services have been entrusted to the Sinnicksons Funeral Home in Center Moriches though, as of earlier this week, plans had not yet been finalized.

Staff Writer Jon Winkler contributed reporting to this story.

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Maybe the driver suffered a medical episode, since the speed did not diminish as the accident unfolded.
By btdt (407), water mill on Sep 27, 16 4:36 PM
so sad
By xtiego (592), bridgehampton on Sep 27, 16 7:00 PM
1 member liked this comment
My heart goes out to the family
By toes in the water (530), southampton on Sep 27, 16 9:50 PM
If it was in fact a front tire blowout, the motorhome will veer in the direction of the flat. Though not intuitive, applying brakes is the worst one can do as it can result in loss of control. You actually need to immediately accelerate to regain control, then gradually brake. This is actually the recommended procedure by major RV/Truck tire manufacturers. Though not always known by motorhome drivers.
By RV-NET (1), VA on Sep 28, 16 10:45 PM
1 member liked this comment