Paterson Toughens DUI Laws When Kids Aboard

Taconic crash severs family ties

By Hasani Gittens and Jennifer Millman
|  Thursday, Aug 13, 2009  |  Updated 4:31 PM EDT
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Paterson Toughens DUI Laws When Kids Aboard

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Gov. Paterson is getting tough on drunk drivers

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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.

The father of the three girls who were killed when their aunt drove drunk and high the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway has severed all ties to the woman’s husband, according to the New York Post.
 
The girls’ father, Warren Hance, is not only angry that driver Diane Schuler was downing vodka and smoking pot while driving, but also that her husband -- and his lawyer -- have developed a bizarre series of medical excuses to explain her unforgivable behavior, according to the paper.
 
The Hances have rather formed a relationship with the family of the strangers who were also killed when Diane Schuler slammed into their car -- father and son Michael and Guy Bastardi.
 
The Bastardi family lawyer Irving Anolik told the Post, “[The Hance family lawyer] told me they would prefer not to be in touch with or connected to the Schuler family, particularly their lawyer.”
 
James McCrorie, an attorney for the Hances, said he wouldn't comment on the relationship.
 
“It was supposed to be confidential,” said McCrorie. “They have no comment on anything anyone else in the case says.”
 
The Hances have reportedly become so close to the Bastardis that they are giving them money earned from a memorial fund set up for their daughters.
 
They “don’t want to make any money on this tragedy and if they do get any money on this fund, they intend to turn it over to the Bastardi family,” Anolik told the Post. “I was overwhelmed with the generosity and compassion of this family.”

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