Taconic crash prompts state to pass DWI laws

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Inspired in part by the wrong-way crash on the Taconic Parkway that killed three young Floral Park, L.I., sisters, the state Legislature passed what it called the strictest DWI laws in the country that would stiffen penalties for drunk drivers when there is a child in the vehicle.

Anyone charged with driving while intoxicated who has a child as a passenger in their car would face up to four years in prison instead of the current one-year maximum.

If the drunk driver causes serious injury to a child in the car, that person would face a seven-year maximum sentence instead of four years.

If the drunk driver drives recklessly, causing serious injury to a child passenger, the driver would face up to 15 years in prison instead of the current four-year maximum.

If a child in the car is killed by a drunk driver, the driver would face up to 25 years in prison instead of the current seven years.

The legislation also calls for installing ignition interlock devices for everyone convicted of a DWI offense. A judge can waive that requirement, but only for someone who has no history of alcohol abuse or dependence.

“By strengthening both prevention and punishment, this bill is a strong step forward in our ongoing effort to eliminate the needless and tragic deaths caused by drunk drivers,” said state Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans), who co-sponsored the legislation. “Too many lives are put on the line every day through this reckless and thoughtless act, and it is long overdue that we take a tough stance against this unacceptable conduct.”

“Drunk driving is an incredibly reckless and dangerous crime, made all the more senseless and heinous when a child’s life is on the line,” said state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), who co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly. “This multi-pronged measure will make drunk drivers think twice before climbing behind the wheel with a child passenger, and harshly punish those who do so.”

Sisters Alyson, Kate and Emma Hance of Floral Park, L.I., were killed when their aunt, Diane Schuler, drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway, striking another vehicle. Three Yonkers men in the other car were killed along with Schuler and her 2-year-old daughter.

The bill is named “Leandra’s Law” after Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old who was killed after the car driven by the mother of one of her friends overturned on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan last month, but it was also drafted with the Hance sisters and Schuler’s daughter in mind.

“New Yorkers everywhere were deeply impacted by the two most recent fatal instances where children were innocent victims of an adult drunk driver,” said Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) in a statement. “With the memory of Leandra and the Schuler and Hance girls and countless victims of DWI in our hearts and our minds guiding the way, New York becomes the leader in the fight to end drunk driving.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

Updated 6:31 pm, October 10, 2011
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