Drunk Driving victims remembered in New Jersey
Family members and friends of victims of DUI accidents remembered their dear ones this morning like Nelson Albano who will spend his 13th Christmas without his son Michael. Albano’s 19-year-old son died in a drunk driving crash in December 2011.
Albano spoke at the “New Jersey Remembers” ceremony honoring victims of drunk driving and police officers with the highest number of DWI arrests. The event was hosted by state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa. The near and dear ones of victims lit candles in their memory and also displayed their pictures.
Mount Arlington Police Chief Keith Licata’s friend, Officer Joseph Wargo, was struck by the vehicle of a drunk driver and died in 2011 while sitting in his patrol car. Licata said, “We all have sympathetic hearts for someone involved in a tragedy, but until you are involved in it firsthand, you have no idea”. He said that when he arrived at the accident spot, he saw his fellow officers trying to save his life. He added, “We all knew it was bad and we did everything we could. But we never knew that would be the last time we would see our friend”.
According to an estimate, each year around 10,000 people are killed in DUI accidents in the United States. In New Jersey, the number of arrests that were made in 2012 was more than 30,000.
Fran Reiss, a resident of East Windsor, told about her 21-year-old neighbor Stacey Cutler who was killed when her car was struck by a drunk driver. Cutler’s passenger was seriously injured in the crash. Reiss also told that the driver got only a minimal jail sentence.
Brother of Hamilton resident Jill Morrison, Guy Fleming, died in an alcohol-related accident in 1991. “The drunk driver that killed my brother lost her license for a year and got probation. So to see how far we’ve come with the laws, now people are charged with death by auto so there are much harsher sentences and people know, if I drive drunk I can go to jail,” said Morrison.
Morrison and Reiss both joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving with a purpose of educating people about the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Reiss said, “If you can save one person —one person — from being killed or injured, it’s worth the time”.
In 2012, Carneys Point Police Sgt. Dale Fahr arrested 42 drivers for DWI. He was the Top Gun of Salem County. He said that you can never tell when you will encounter an intoxicated driver, or who it will be. “You get them all over. It can be anytime from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. too. It’s not always between 10 at night and 3 in the morning. And it’s at all times during the week” said Fahr. He also said that even a drunk driver with high BAC level can performs well on a field sobriety test. “Sometimes with the higher (blood alcohol) readings, like .20 or .23, they do better than someone who’s sober”. He told that he saw many drunk drivers “walk away” from the scene of the accident while innocent victims are severely injured or killed.
West Windsor Police Officer Walter Silcox is the Top Gun of Mercer County. He had arrested 23 individuals in 2012.
Vineland Officer Luis Rodriguez was the Top Gun of Cumberland County.
According to the Lambertville Police Sgt. Robert Brown, MADD and programs like New Jersey Remembers helped a lot in decreasing the accidents and deaths caused by DUI crashes. He said, “We see now less accidents in Lambertville from DWIs than when I first started 20 years ago. I saw a lot more then, so I think that stands out”.
30 people were arrested by Brown for DWI, making him the Top Gun in Hunterdon County.
Assemblyman Albano said, “The Top Guns are going the extra mile. They’re putting forth a huge effort at keeping our streets safe”. He said that reduced DUI accidents and deaths in New Jersey can be attributed to enforcement.”I think there’s been a big improvement in technology and in education” he added. He said that he thinks that there is space for improvement in awareness and education. That includes the HERO Campaign, a nationwide effort to promote the use of designated drivers as well as teaching driving safety in the schools, he explained.