They were shooting dice on the apron of the driveway - seven friends laughing, bending over the tumbling white squares and waiting for their Easter barbecue - when a car came screaming over the hill, witnesses and Suffolk police said.
"It went through the stop sign," said Crystal Gram, who was among them Sunday afternoon at Maple Lane and Hawkins Avenue in Medford. "It didn't swerve. It didn't brake. It came straight at us."
Police said a Toyota sedan driven by a teenager involved in a long-running dispute with one of the people in the driveway veered off the road directly into the group. Four leaped out of the way, but three were struck, one fatally.
"I jumped back and heard boom, boom, boom!" said Charlene Bivins, 23, who owns the property and escaped injury in the driveway. "We looked over, and the three boys were on the ground."
Michael Stuart, 18, who lived in Lumberton, N.C., and had been visiting relatives in Medford, was pinned underneath the car and taken to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue, where he died later Sunday afternoon, police said.
Also hit were Austin Hendrickson, 22, and Austin Saraguard, 18, both of Medford. Saraguard's leg was broken, Bivins said. Both are recovering at area hospitals, officials said.
When the 1993 Toyota came to rest in a thicket of trees off the road, driver Aneudy Vargas, 19, and three teenage passengers abandoned the car and sprinted away, said Det. Lt. Gregory McVeigh, the Sixth Squad commander.
As they did, police said Tiheem Graham, 22, who lives with Bivins at 90 Maple Lane, got a shotgun from inside the house and fired at least two rounds at them. Police later learned that one of the passengers, Yoel Pineda, 17, of Medford, was hit in the right arm with shotgun pellets. He was not hospitalized, officials said.
Later Sunday evening, Vargas turned himself in to Sixth Squad detectives, and said he had intended to scare the group, but lost control of the car, McVeigh said. Vargas, of 8 Lincoln Ct., Medford, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident and two counts of third-degree assault. He was arraigned yesterday at First District Court in Central Islip and held in the Suffolk County jail on $150,000 cash bail or $500,000 bond.
Graham was charged with second-degree assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and prohibited use of a firearm, McVeigh said. He was arraigned and held on $15,000 cash bail or $45,000 bond, authorities said.
In a statement to police, Vargas indicated that he swerved toward the house to scare the crowd, but didn't mean to hit them, McVeigh said.
"He was driving up the road, saw the people standing in the driveway and drove in their direction," McVeigh said. "It's possible he lost control of the car as he was doing so."
McVeigh did say, however, that police are looking into reports from witnesses that Vargas had a fistfight with Saraguard earlier in the day over windows that had been broken on Vargas' car a week ago, McVeigh said.
Some who know Saraguard said yesterday that the dispute stretched back as far as one year when the two were expelled from Longwood High School for getting into a fight. "They have been going after [Saraguard] for a year, and we still don't know why," said Stuart's aunt, who asked not to be named.
Police said they knew nothing of this and school officials could not be reached for comment.
From his hospital bed at Stony Brook University Hospital yesterday, where he was in satisfactory condition, Saraguard declined to comment, saying his parents were unavailable to talk. He did say, however, that he was in pain from his injuries.
Hendrickson, who was listed in stable condition at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital, could not be reached for comment. Neither Vargas nor his relatives could be reached for comment.
About an hour and a half after the alleged fistfight Sunday, Vargas borrowed his girlfriend's car at 2:30 p.m. and headed down Hawkins Avenue with Pineda and two other passengers, Gregorio Cuello, 17, of Coram, and Raudi Hernandez, 18, of Medford. "If they were looking for Saraguard, we don't know that," McVeigh said.
As the car sped south and careened toward the driveway, chicken and steaks were smoking on the barbecue at Stuart's aunt's house less than a mile away. The seven were just waiting for their ride there. Saraguard had mentioned the earlier fight to the group, "but he was here now, and we thought it would just die out," Bivins said.
When the car struck, Stuart, Hendrickson and Saraguard were crouched over the pavement with their backs to the oncoming vehicle.
There was no evidence that Vargas tried to stop the car, McVeigh said.
Accident or not, there was no indication that Stuart, who worked at McDonald's in Lumberton and was studying to become a music promoter, could have been an intended target, friends and relatives said.
"He was quiet, and he got along with everybody," his sister, Lydia Stuart, 21, said. "He loved to take care of children and visit his family. This shouldn't have happened to him."