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Vasean DWI bill faces state debate

The discrepancy involves vagueness in parts of the bill's language that some believe could be misinterpreted by the courts and thus endanger the law's original intent.The bill, which legislators expected to pass in the state Senate and Assembly in the next few weeks, calls for imposing felony charges on drunk drivers who kill or injure another person and sending them to prison for up to seven years. It would also ease the burden for prosecutors, who would no longer have to prove that anything besides the intoxication, such as speeding or running a red light, caused the accident.But Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), a co-sponsor of the bill, said that concerns arose this week after the Queens district attorney's office told her part of the legislation could be misconstrued to mean that the guilt of a drunk driver lay in how he operated the vehicle rather than solely on his intoxication."Before we go to the floor we'd like some changes," she said. Another to express wariness over the language was Monique Dixon, the Flushing mother who has campaigned relentlessly for the bill, named "Vasean's Law" for her 11-year-old son who was killed by an accused drunk driver nearly seven months ago."I will not be satisfied until it does everything it's supposed to do," said Dixon, who because she has almost single-handedly pushed this legislation toward fruition has immense sway among lawmakers.Still, state Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Glendale), the Senate co-sponsor of the bill, expressed surprise at Dixon's reaction. "Until this morning we were on target," he said Tuesday from Albany. "I was satisfied with the wording of the bill and looked forward to getting it out."He added, however, that "by and large, I believe it will pass."Mayersohn was equally optimistic about the overall bill, which passed in the Assembly's Codes Committee Monday."This is a major accomplishment," she said. "People now are going to think twice about getting into a car when they have drunk over the legal limit."Dixon's son, Vasean Alleyne, and his best friend Angel Reyes, 12, were hit crossing a street in Flushing Oct. 22 by John Wirta, a Fresh Meadows repairman who police say had a blood alcohol content level well over the legal limit when he plowed the two boys over with his company van. Vasean died and Angel suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the accident.Wirta, 56, was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.Since then, Dixon and Angel's mother, Diana Reyes, have fought tirelessly for a change in the law, including spending the past four weeks lobbying in Albany.Although the new measure would not apply in Wirta's case, Dixon said she hoped its passage would prevent similar tragedies in the future."There's a bit of satisfaction just knowing that the next people who have to face what I went through will at least have a judge and jury decide the case," she said.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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