FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (PIX11) — It’s so familiar that most people know it very well: if you drink and drive, the penalties are stiff. If a person who drinks and drives causes a crash, the consequences are severe. However, when it comes to driving while impaired by a substance other than alcohol, the consequences are not as clear in New York State as they are for alcohol DWI.
A group of families that have been directly affected by this situation joined on Monday with law enforcement leaders and others to call for proposed legislation that addresses this situation to be adopted as law.
As part of the rally in support of what’s called the Deadly Driving Bill, New York state troopers displayed the SUV in which Timothy Carpenter, 22, was killed last March. Troopers and doctors alike said that a man who was impaired from fentanyl use ran his truck into the SUV in which Carpenter was sitting, killing him.
On Monday, Carpenter’s parents clutched his framed photograph as they touched the seat where he’d been sitting when the driver plowed into him, costing Carpenter his life.
“Even if this addict had been pulled over” just before the crash, Andrea Carpenter said about Christopher Guzman, the suspect in her son’s death, “he could not have been charged with drugged driving because police would not have been able to name the drug that was making him so high and so dangerous, and that’s insane.”
His family was talking about current driving while impaired laws, that have severe penalties if cops pull a driver over and alcohol over the legal limit is detected.
However, in the case of a driver impaired by any other substance, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney, “That drug must be on a specific list,” according to state law, he said.
“So for instance,” Tierney continued, in comments at the Monday morning rally, “if a person is impaired by the use of Rohypnol, that person cannot be prosecuted under New York State law. That’s wrong.”
Tierney was joined by Nassau County D.A. Anne Donnelly and other law enforcement leaders, as well as a handful of other families impacted in DWI cases, and anti-impaired driving groups.
They were all calling for the Deadly Driving Bill for to be passed in the New York State Senate and Assembly.
The bill makes it easier for law enforcement officers to determine if an impaired driver has been using drugs, and it stiffens penalties for a driver who’s determined to have done so.
Alisa McMorris, who lost her 12-year-old son Andrew when a drunk driver plowed into the boy’s Boy Scout troop five years ago, said that she was speaking out because the situation involving impaired driving is dire.
“Our numbers are the highest they’ve been since Andrew was born,” she said. “That’s nearly 18 years. That’s horrific.”
She and her husband, John, said that they were also on hand to support the Carpenter Family, who were shown the truck that troopers said Guzman had driven while impaired, costing their son his life, eight months ago.
Guzman died earlier this year of an apparent drug overdose.
All of the families present at Monday’s event said that the whole situation is a reminder, during the year’s busiest driving week, that impaired driving leaves tragedies.
“The stories are horrible,” John McMorris said, in an interview on scene, “but they need to resonate long enough for people to make the decision to not get behind the wheel, if they’ve been drinking or using drugs.”
The Long Island families said that they planned on attending a statewide rally in support of the proposed legislation on Jan. 9, at the statehouse in Albany.