On the evening of July 8, 2011, Alexandria Rice was going home from work on her skateboard when she was struck by a drunk driver. The impact from the collision left the 18-year-old with a broken neck. She died almost instantly. Her body was propelled at least 40 feet in the air and slid almost 39 feet on concrete before stopping to rest at a lawn.
At the time of the incident, the driver was speeding and texting and thought he had simply run over something on the road. He drove away from the scene of the crime and only fully noticed the extent of his accident when he got to his home. He discovered a severely crumpled hood on his BMW as well as blood and tissue on his front fender.
The perpetrator of the crime was a doctor; a person whose life is typically dedicated to the help and care of people in need. Dr. James Corasanti was found to have a 0.10 percent blood alcohol content five hours after the hit-and-run. Corasanti claimed that he was not drunk when he struck Alexandria with his car, despite being over the legal limit of 0.08.
Corasanti’s month long trial resulted in a verdict of not guilty for manslaughter and guilty for a misdemeanor DWI. The trial and its conclusion were controversial and outraged many in Buffalo and the western New York region, yet this case yielded one good result; it raised awareness for DWI.
Despite the outcome of Corasanti’s trial, punishments for drivers caught drinking are becoming increasingly stricter. People are realizing more and more of the severity of the damage caused while driving impaired.
A 2009 mandate entitled Child Passenger Protection Act, more commonly known as Leandra’s Law, is a result of the crackdown on drinking and driving. As of December 18th, 2009, any driver found to be intoxicated with a child who is younger than 16 in their vehicle will be convicted of drunken driving, even first-time offenders. They face being charged with a class E felony, which is punishable by up to 4 years in state prison.
Also, as of August 15, 2010, a recently enacted stipulation of Leandra’s Law requires drivers who have been convicted of this offense to install and maintain an ignition interlock in the vehicle they own. An ignition interlock device is a system that requires an individual to blow into it. If they register a .025 percent blood alcohol content or higher, the engine will not start. The device is $800 to $1,000 for a six month period and will be paid for by the convicted drunk driver.
In New York State, there are measures in place by the government to reduce the occurrence of not only drunk driving, but also impaired driving. Driving while intoxicated refers not only to high blood alcohol content, but also refers to any substance that can potentially diminish a driver’s concentration and coordination. Use of any type of drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances including marijuana and even prescription or over-the-counter drugs can cause impairment and render a person unfit to drive.
One program in particular seeks to identify and target factors that would influence a person to engage in impaired driving. STOP-DWI stands for Special Traffic Options Program- for Driving While Intoxicated and is specifically designed to do exactly what its name communicates; Stop DWI.
Developed in 1980 and enacted a year later, STOP-DWI focuses on several areas to reduce the number of crashes that are caused by impaired drivers. Enforcement, rehabilitation, public information, and education are some aspects that this system provides funding to. The STOP-DWI project is state-wide and every county in New York has implemented it.
The concept of this program was formed by Senator William T. Smith whose daughter was killed by an impaired driver in 1973. Through advocacy and support, STOP-DWI gained momentum by the end of 1982.
A beneficial and innovative feature that helps the state fund this program is that it is self-sustaining. The money needed to run all the elements of the STOP-DWI program are provided by fines paid by New York drivers convicted of DWI. With this bill, not only are the courts and the police involved with the system, but schools, non-profit organizations, and other groups are involved as well.
Chautauqua Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Council (CASAC) is one such group that is sponsored by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department to provide education and public information. CASAC has received funding through the STOP-DWI program for several years and continues to provide services for the county.
CASAC continues its mission to build a safer, healthier community by effectively addressing alcohol, other drugs and related high-risk behaviors through advocacy, hope and awareness. While CASAC does provide the Chautauqua County Drinking and Driving program for past offenders, the emphasis is placed on prevention, with the majority of programs involving underage youth and drinking.
Several programs take place in schools throughout the area from kindergarten to grade 12. One-time presentations, interactive presentations, and evidence-based, multi-session drug prevention programs are available. The presentations address the dangers of alcohol and other drugs in general and specifically address the issue of driving under the influence of harmful substances.
Specific topics include but are not limited to:
- Health & Safety
- Rules & Laws
- Life Skills
- Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain/Growth & Development
- Alcohol, Consequences of Drinking & Unexpected Consequences/Alternatives to Drinking
- Alcohol/DWI Information/DWI Consequences
- Driver/Passenger/Vehicle Safety
- Social Pressures to Use Alcohol & Other Drugs
- Resisting Peer Pressures/Resistance Skills
- Benefits of Not Using Alcohol & Other Drugs
CASAC strives to educate our youth so that such incidents of DWI will be prevented in the future. Children will grow up to become the next generation of drivers and should be instructed on how to carefully and consciously navigate a vehicle. CASAC seeks to create and maintain a safer and healthier environment for our community to live in.
The citizens of our county should not fear losing their loved ones through a fault of an impaired driver, such as Dr. Corasanti. His negligence cost Alexandria her life and cost her parents immense grief and pain.
STOP-DWI was established to stop incidents like those and thus far, statistics show that it’s working. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2008 in Chautauqua County, there were 135 total alcohol-related car accidents with 4 resulting in a fatality. Two years later, there were 109 total accidents that involved alcohol and no fatalities resulted from those crashes.
However, there is always room for improvement and impaired drivers are still being caught by law enforcement. In 2011, there were a total of 703 arrests for felony and misdemeanor DWI in Chautauqua County, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Drivers who are under the influence will still continue to be a problem because diminished thought processes are accompanied by diminished capacity for good decision-making.
In an effort to educate past offenders and potentially reduce the probability that they will drink and drive again, CASAC provides the Drinking Driver Program for Chautauqua County. In 2011, 382 individuals were enrolled in this program and were able to secure a conditional license, which allows them special driving privileges.
STOP-DWI was put in practice to at least educate the community to recognize when a person is simply unfit to drive and to try to stop them from getting behind the wheel. Even if the person who is unable to realize that they should not be driving doesn?t stop himself, then a friend, relative, or even a general member of the community could intervene.
The STOP-DWI program can save lives; it could save your own or your family’s.
Since 1974, CASAC, a United Way supported agency, has provided prevention education and community awareness regarding alcohol and other drugs. CASAC is the only New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) approved and supported alcohol and other drug prevention agency in Chautauqua County.
For further information about CASAC programs and services, call the Jamestown office at 664-3608, or the Dunkirk office at 366-4623, or go to CASAC’s website, www.casacweb.org.