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Flushing mothers win support in DWI law quest

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"Anyone who drives drunk and kills or injures someone should be considered a violent felon and prosecuted and sentenced as such," said Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), one of 17 members to sponsor the resolution.Vasean Alleyne, 11, was killed and his friend, Angel Reyes, was in a weeklong coma after John Wirta, a repairman, plowed into the two with his van Oct. 22 at 73rd Avenue in Flushing while coming home from a job in Manhattan. Wirta, 58, of Fresh Meadows, was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of one year in prison.Current law states that in order to be classified as a felony the prosecution must prove that the driver's intoxication coupled by some traffic violation, such as speeding, caused the death or serious injury of another person.The Council's resolution asks the state to adopt more stringent legislation that would relieve the prosecution of the burden of proving those two factors: first by presuming that the drinking caused the accident and second by eliminating any additional acts of negligence. Under such a law, any driver who has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit and kills or injures someone else would automatically face felony charges."The loopholes have been recognized," said Monique Dixon, Vasean's mother. "Unfortunately. the City Council is not the one that passes these laws."A bill introduced in November by state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver called Vasean's Law supports the presumption clause but leaves in the element of criminal negligence."(The bill) is named after my son, but it will not even punish the man who killed him," said Dixon, referring to Wirta. "What is needed is a law that says drinking and driving is negligent in itself." Dixon and Angel's mother, Diana Reyes, said they planned to travel to Albany March 17 for a three-week lobbying campaign to press Assembly members to heed the Council's resolution and to tighten DWI laws further than what Silver's current bill proposes.Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has also expressed frustration with the penalty limitations in DWI cases."Regrettably, under existing law you need something more," the DA said at a general town hall meeting in Kew Garden Hills last Thursday. Brown said Wirta's case had been adjourned numerous times because his office was trying to find any additional negligence on the repairman's part."We have not closed the door on this yet," the DA said after speaking at the meeting. Wirta's next court date is March 11.Diana Reyes and her son, Angel, 12, also attended the meeting, which was the third of four Gennaro has scheduled throughout his district.Angel has a learning disability as a result of the accident and is still receiving occupational therapy and after-school counseling, according to his mother.Asked how he was feeling, the child said, "I feel OK, but I don't remember things too well."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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