After two recent teenage drunk driving related deaths, several departments came together to host an event intended to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while intoxicated (DWI) and distracted. The Clarkstown Police Department, New City Fire Department, New City Ambulance Corp, STAT Med Evac, Higgins Funeral Home, and Clarkstown Town Justice David Ascher, presented a mock DWI accident scene at Zukor Park on Wednesday.
“Our communities are still reeling from these losses,” said Clarkstown Supervisor George Hoehmann. “We have to learn from them.”
On April 24, Suffern High School student Jacqueline Zangrilli, 16, died in a DWI crash on Route 202. The driver and three other passengers were seriously injured, and the driver is facing charges, including vehicular manslaughter. Just 12 days later, Clarkstown High School North student Vladyslav Hvalyk, 16, was killed in a drunk driving crash in New City that left another student seriously injured, and the driver accused of vehicular homicide “It’s got to stop,” said Rockland County District Attorney Tom Walsh. “Today should be a good example for all of us, to see the tragedy that can happen.”
“We want this demonstration to send a visual message, showing just how serious the responsibility of driving is,” said Police Chief Jeff Wanamaker. “You are not only responsible for yourself, but also for your passengers, and others on the road.”
According to Wanamaker, statistics demonstrate that an average of 28 people die per day from impaired driving, and nine people die per day from distracted driving.
As Memorial Day approaches, Anastasia Karassik, founder of the Larisa Karassik Foundation, spoke before the demonstration, sharing the story of her daughter’s death and reminding attendees to avoid driving under the influence.
“We ended up burying her that Friday in the shoes she was supposed to wear to her eighth grade dance.”
Karassik said Larisa, aged 13, went out with her father for ice cream on Memorial Day weekend in 2015, when they were t-boned by a drunk driver who had two previous DWIs. The car went up in flames, and “two good samaritans had pulled their bodies out of the car,” said Karassik. “My daughter Larisa died on the side of the road, in the loving arms of a little woman who was gardening…and just held her as she took her last breath and her beautiful eyes went from blue to black.”
In July of 2019, Jayde Marks, 21, of New City, was also killed by a drunk driver at the 304 intersection near Albertus Magnus High School.
Hoehmann and Walsh encouraged parents to speak with their children about the dangers of drunk driving.
“If one parent has a conversation after seeing the news reports on this…we will have been successful,” said Hoehmann.
“We can make it better, we can save our children,” said Walsh. “But we need to talk to them, we need to reach out for them, and let our young people know that we care and we want them to be safe.”
Karassik said she had just gone to Clarkstown North High School to tell students about her daughter’s story, before the crash that killed Hvalyk. “To see that this is still happening, and two fatalities within two weeks is just unbelievable,” said Karassik. “There are no words.”
Walsh asserted that as the county prosecutor, he will hold drunk drivers accountable for their actions. “Yes, you will be prosecuted if there’s drunk driving,” said Walsh. “We don’t want to, but there’s a job to do to make sure that we’re all safe.”
“Your decisions affect everyone,” said Karassik.