By Town Supervisor George Hoehmann
** All the victims in the photos are actors*On Tuesday, we completed the third and final demonstration in partnership with our school districts, police and first responders for seniors at Clarkstown North High School in New City, on the dangers of drunk, impaired and distracted driving. Providing a real life demonstration for our graduating seniors continues to be an annual goal for our town and school partners.
There is a need for our youth to understand the dangers thatpresent themselves in a period of time we call the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers. The live demonstrations, though stark, emphasize the increasing statistics which illustrate that we must do more and remain vigilant in educating people of all ages of the unnecessary, irresponsible risks of impaired driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest time on the roads, especially for teenage drivers. On average 2,081 teenage drivers die every year in traffic accidents, with over 30% of these deaths occurring during this 100 day period. Moreover, NHTSA statistics confirm that over 7,000 people die annually in accidents involving teenage drivers.
Many of these accidents are preventable and are the resultof distracted driving and/or impaired driving. Even more disturbing is the dramatic rise in drunk and impaired driving fatalities. According to the NHTSA these numbers rose by 14% from 2019 to 2020. A staggering increase in the last full year that statistics are available,show that 11,654 people lost their lives in the United States due to drunk driving accidents in 2020 up from 10,196 in 2019. It’s not surprising to learn that June, July and August are the deadliest months, regardless of the age of the driver, for drunk and impaired driving that result in a fatality.
According to the NHTSA, during each of these months 10% or more of the fatalities that occur involve drunk or impaired driving. We are indeed in a very dangerous period of time on the roads and we all need to be careful and be reminded of that. It is easy, as summer dawns, for people to let down theirguard on the roads as we experience more leisure and outdoor activities.
Many of these activities often involve barbeques, parties and other events that all too often lead people to make a terribly selfish decision thinking they will not become a statistic. As our former police Chief Ray McCullough once told me, “I have witnessed many good things in my career as a police officer, however, almost always the bad things I have witnessed involved drugs, alcohol or distracted driving.”
The above statistics, coupled with the many tragedies in recent years involving young drivers in our area has led us to intensify our efforts. Chief among these is the DWI demonstration that my office organized with the Clarkstown Police Department involving our local fire departments and ambulance corps. In May, we held DWI demonstrations at Germonds Park for over 300 seniors from Clarkstown South, and at the Nanuet Outdoor Education Center for over 125 seniors from Nanuet High School.
Each demonstration included remarks by the School Superintendent: Kevin McCahill in Nanuet, and Jeff Sobel in Clarkstown; myself, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Walsh, Clarkstown Police Chief Jeff Wanamaker, and Anastasia Karassik a mother who lost her 13 year-old daughter Larisa to a drunk driver seven years ago.
Each of us highlighted aspects of the problem of distracted, drunk and impaired driving. Anastasia delivered extremely poignant remarks that absolutely connected with those inattendance. She described in brief, but compelling detail the shift from a carefree Memorial Day weekend where her daughter and best friend went to enjoy ice cream at a parlor in upstate Warren County to suddenly having to go to the hospital to identify her daughter’s body.
The family went from preparing for an eighth grade graduation and upcoming dance, where she was excited to wear her new dress and shoes, to burying their daughter on the day of the dance in that same outfit.
The point of the demonstration was to remind young people and indeed all of us how a thoughtless, selfish decision can and may irrevocably impact the lives of many others. The students witnessed what happens all too often in our town and across the country after a devastating collision. They witnessed step by step the sudden impact one poor decision can make, beginning with the police dispatcher receiving the call and sending first responders, the officers pulling up to the scene, followed by the ambulance and fire department who worked quickly to remove the roof and pry open doors to retrieve victims.
Once completed the “driver” is put through a field sobriety test as one victim is placed in an ambulance and a second into a hearse. The event concludes with a mock arraignment before one of the town judges where the driver is remanded to county jail on $100,000 bail due to the DWI arrest. Last year alone two drivers under the age of 20 were sentenced in Rockland, to prison sentences for aggravated vehicular homicide for causing the death of classmates and friends while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These were preventable accidents with deadly consequences. We must do all we can to end these nightmares here in our community.
I am grateful for the participation of our schools, as well as the New City, West Nyack and Nanuet Fire Departments, Nanuet and New City Ambulance Corps (particularly the Youth Corps members who volunteered to play the roles of driver and victims), the Clarkstown Police Department, and Air Med One helicopter (that participated in the Nanuet drill), and Higgins and Sorce Funeral Homes. If one young person or adult thinks twice and decides to take an Uber or make a plan so they and their friends do not drive when they are impaired, then the drill was a success. It is for this purpose that Anastasia Karassik speaks to groups, so that no other family will experience what she and her family went through in losing their daughter.
Her daughter was killed by a driver who died in the same accident after two prior DWIs—he was twice the legal limit and ran a stop sign ending his life and the life of a thirteen year child eating ice cream in the back seat of her father’s SUV.
I hope everyone has an enjoyable summer. However, when you go out please be responsible, pay close attention while driving, and make good choices to keep yourself and others safe on the roads. The Clarkstown Police will be stepping up enforcement during the “100 Deadliest Days” so if you do make that terrible mistake be aware there are consequences. It is time to reduce these tragic numbers so that the “100 Deadliest Days” become a thing of the past. I hope I never have to attend another needless funeral for an innocent young person who fell victim to the irresponsible act of another reckless driver.