As the five-year-old lone survivor of a tragic wrong-way crash that killed eight people slowly begins to recover from his injuries, officials are calling for harsher penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the car.
Diane Schuler had a blood alcohol content of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit, when she crashed on the Taconic Parkway July 26. Her three nieces, aged 8, 7 and 5, were killed along with her 2-year-old daughter, the Bastardis, aged 49 and 81, and their family friend Daniel Longo, 74.
Gov. David Paterson unveiled new laws targeting drivers under the influence who have passengers under the age of 17 in tow,at a press conference this afternoon. First time offenders would be required to install devices preventing them from starting their cars while drunk and repeat offenders would face prison time -- up to 25 years behind bars if a young passenger dies.
Paterson said that there were already 35 states that had child endangerment laws on the book associated with driving under the influence, yet in New York there was no law to protect the over 600 children a year that are injured or killed in DUI accidents.
"Clearly we have a situation that typifies what has been an unaddressed issue in New York state," said the governor. "Today we will introduce legislation to make New York one of those states [that has tougher laws].
Under the new law drunk driving with a youngster in the car go from being a misdemeanor to being a felony.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, backed by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, called yesterday for felony charges for individuals who drive drunk with child passengers.
“A child in a car driven by a drunk driver is a defenseless hostage in a dangerous situation. Most children are too young to take the keys away or call a cab," Fuschillo said in a statement. Individuals who are responsible for protecting a child’s safety need to face higher penalties when their reckless actions put that child in harm’s way.”
Fuschillo, who has authored several anti-DWI laws in the state, introduced legislation that would require up to four years in prison and fines of up to $5,000 for people who drive drunk with children younger than 16 in the car. The bill would also expand the state's aggravated vehicular homicide law to include drunk drivers who kill a child, and raise the penalty for that crime to a felony.
“Endangering a child because you choose to drink and drive is unconscionable, and deserves to land you behind bars," Rice said. "This bill will ensure that those drunk drivers who imprison our most vulnerable in their cars will land in a jail cell where they belong.”
And the tragic Taconic crash has destroyed families in more ways than one.