Inspired by the fatal crash on the Taconic Parkway, Gov. David Paterson proposed new legislation last week that would increase penalties for those driving while intoxicated when children are in the car.
Last month, 36-year-old Diane Schuler of West Babylon, L.I., drove the wrong way on the Westchester highway for 1.7 miles before slamming into an SUV, killing herself, her 2-year-old daughter, her three young Floral Park nieces and three men in the SUV.
Paterson said his proposed bill would make it a felony for people who drink and drive with passengers in their car under 16. The governor said those currently arrested in that situation are either charged with a misdemeanor and, in some cases, a traffic infraction.
“In 2007, there were 9,480 accidents related to driver intoxication in New York and 344 resulted in deaths,” Paterson said. “Nearly 200 of those killed or injured were under the age of 14. Too often, intoxicated drivers directly threaten the lives of those too young to decide whether to enter a car with an adult. To those who put their children at risk, today we say enough is enough.”
Under Paterson’s bill, aggravated vehicular homicide that is committed when a passenger under 16 in the car dies and the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs would be a felony punishable by five to 25 years in state prison.
A toxicology report prepared by the Westchester County medical examiner found Schuler to have a blood-alcohol content more than twice the legal limit. It also said she found a “high level” of marijuana in her system.
Floral Park sisters Emma, 8; Alyson, 7; and Kate Hance, 5; died in the Taconic accident.
Meanwhile, West-chester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said her office would not file charges against Schuler’s husband, Daniel Schuler, in the Taconic crash case.
Schuler’s husband drove in another car when they left an upstate campground and DiFiore said there was no evidence that Diane Schuler was drunk before the couple left the campground in separate vehicles.
If Daniel Schuler had been charged, the DA’s office would have had to prove that he knew his wife was drunk before they left the campground.
Paterson’s bill would also stiffen penalties for aggravated vehicular assault, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, driving while intoxicated and those charged with DWI a second time if a child under 16 is in the car at the time of the offense.
“This new legislation that Gov. Paterson is proposing to enhance the penalties for driving while intoxicated with children in a vehicle plainly reflects how the community’s tolerance for this irresponsible behavior has changed,” said Westchester County District Attorney DiFiore in a statement. “While these enhanced penalties serve as an added deterrence, the motivation behind this new proposed legislation couldn’t be clearer: If you operate a vehicle in an intoxicated condition and endanger yourself, the public and especially young children, you will be held accountable.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz
©2009 Community News Group
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