The Tragedy Of Drunk Driving

0
664

Raising awareness amid increase of drunk driving crashes

It has been a deadly month for Long Island motorists.
Over 20 people have died this month in car accidents and crashes. Among the causes are excess speed and driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
On Aug. 12, according to the Nassau County Police Department, Sotirios Spanos, 32, of Syosset, was traveling eastbound on Northern Boulevard in the vicinity of Moored Hill Road in Laurel Hollow when he crossed over the yellow divider and collided with a Ferrari Convertible traveling westbound, driven by Ismenia and Odalis Urena, both 37 of Syosset. Ismenia, the passenger of the car, was pronounced dead at the scene by a Nassau County Police Medic. Odalis was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead by hospital staff. Spanos was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of manslaughter in the second degree, two counts of assault in the second degree, driving while intoxicated and reckless driving.

The Huntley family has experienced tragedy amid the loss of Patrice Huntley, 60, Jeremiah, 10, and Hannah Huntley, 13, and Chantel Solomon, 6.
(Photo courtesy Tauris McBride via Facebook)

Just six days before, Michael Deangelo, 32, of Lindenhurst, was driving westbound at a high rate of speed on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa where it collided with three additional vehicles. Patrice Huntley, 60, of Flushing, and his children Jeremiah, 10, and Hannah Huntley, 13, both of Uniondale, were pronounced dead at the scene. Chantel Solomon, 6, of Uniondale. later succumbed to her injuries. Deangelo is charged with three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, three counts of manslaughter in the second degree, six counts of assault in the second degree, two counts of driving while ability impaired and two counts of assault in the third degree.
These tragedies are just two examples of families who have been devastated by those who decide to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Ismenia and Odalis Urena were are a married couple and the parents of two young girls.
Just by looking at Ismenia’s Instagram page, @ismeniaempire, you could see just how driven this couple was. Ismenia was a life coach and authored the book Al Desnudo. She frequently posted videos on Instagram of her spending time with her family, exercising in the gym with Odalis, as well as providing health and wellness tips. Odalis, CBS News reported, owned a construction company.
“Without a doubt, my role as a mother is one of the hardest tasks that I have had to live, although it is by far the greatest, most wonderful and satisfying,” Ismenia wrote on one of her posts celebrating Mother’s Day.
Friends and family on Facebook called the Urenas’ a power couple.
“Such genuine, loving and kind individuals,” one person wrote. “So full of life, love and an inspiration to many. I am blessed and grateful to have had the opportunity to meet you beautiful souls.”
The Syosset community has rallied around the family. Bagel Master in Syosset is accepting checks made out to the Urena family to support the two children left behind in this tragedy.
“This family was a part of our community and hearing that there’s two young kids who have to go through something like this, who didn’t deserve anything like this…. Just being part of the community for as long as we have been, I thought it’s something we should do,” said Vadim Nayman, the owner of Bagel Master. “We have received a lot of community support. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me.”
Nayman added that people have even been reaching out to provide legal services or child care.
“I think it’s a truly amazing community that always comes together in times like this,” Nayman said. “I’ve had outreach from Laurel Hollow, which is a town over but part of our community as well, and those parents came together. The accident was right there by where they resided. They are trying to put together some funds. A ton of people have called to ask questions and see how they can help.”
As for the Huntley family, a GoFundMe has been established to raise funds for burial expenses, long term care expenses for those who survived the accident and legal fees.
“On Aug. 6, Patrice Huntley took four of his children and his step granddaughter (Chantel Solomon) out to celebrate his son’s birthday and his recent job promotion,” the GoFundMe stated. “While waiting at a red light their car was struck by one of two racing cars that were traveling up to 100 mph, killing Patrice, his 12-year-old daughter Hannah and his 11-year-old son Jeremiah, and critically injuring his 18-year-old step daughter Brienna and 5-year-old step granddaughter Chantel.”
So far, the fundraiser has raised $88,222 out of its $250,000 goal.
“Please keep the Huntley-Hamilton family lifted up in prayer,” one person wrote on Facebook. “Patrice Huntley (United States Marine Corp), was a staple in the NYC Veteran community. His family is completely devastated by the car accident which took his life. This tragic car accident took the lives of Pat, two of his children and his step-granddaughter.
If you are able to, please find it in your heart to give to this GoFundMe. Ms. Tasheba Hamilton (United States Navy), must deal with this tremendous loss of her two young children, her former husband Pat and the continued care of another one of her daughters as a result of this accident. She must also support that daughter through the loss of her own 6-year-old child. Please pray for them and please bless them with anything you are able to.”
A relative wrote on Facebook that they are thankful that the person who caused the accident, who was driving at 120 mph and under the influence of fentanyl and cocaine, has been arrested, “but nothing will ever take away the pain of what we have lost.”
Alisa McMorris, the mother of the 12-year-old Boy Scout Andrew McMorris who was hit and killed by a drunk driver while hiking with his troop in Manorville in 2018, said that these tragic events should never be called “accidents.”
“Accidents, as my husband says, are spilling the milk,” McMorris said. “That’s an accident. Tripping over your shoelaces if they’re untied is an accident. Getting behind the wheel impaired and getting in an accident… what happened was a crash, a 100 percent preventable crash.”
When asked if McMorris had any advice for these devastated families, she called this grieving a “slow process.”
“You need to feel everything you need to feel,” McMorris said. “I have a hole in my heart the shape and size of Andrew that will never be filled, but as time goes on I learn how to fill the world around my heart. And what we do by that is parenting Andrew’s legacy, putting my pain to focus and going into what we consider the sixth stage of grief, which is finding meaning, and you can find meaning in any way possible. That meaning may be picking a walk and making that your time with your loved one. It may be tending to their grave. That may be starting a scholarship in their name or what John and I did and our daughter Arianna is creating a foundation in their name, the Andrew McMorris Foundation.”
“The hardest part of this journey is finding out that the ache doesn’t change,” McMorris added. “It doesn’t. It does get, dare I say, better as you figure out a way to parent their legacy.”

Building Awareness Around Drunk Driving
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one person is killed every 39 minutes in a drunk-driving crash, totaling more than 13,000 lives lost each year.
“In 2021, two-thirds of drunk-driving crashes involved a driver who had a Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC, of .15 g/dL or higher,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated in a press release concerning an increase of drunk driving deaths during the Labor Day holiday period. “A BAC of .08 or higher is considered drunk driving in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, except in Utah where the BAC limit is .05.”
McMorris said that drunk driving has always been something she was concerned about. In high school, she was the president of the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club.
The organization was founded in 1981 at Wayland High School in Massachusetts by hockey coach Robert Anastas after a drunk driving crash took the lives of two of the school’s hockey players. In 1982, SADD went national.
“You saw a dramatic decrease in drunk driving crashes, and we had leveled off around 10,000 deaths a year, which is still too many,” McMorris said. “That’s 10,000 families affected every year. And since Andrew has passed, the levels have been steadily increasing, and we don’t know why. Here in New York State, it’s gone up 52 percent… the year that Andrew passed, there were 10,651. I call Andrew the 51. Since then, we’re well into the 11,000s… we’re heading into the 12,000s. Each and every one of those deaths is another family that is completely torn apart.”
McMorris said that she told her son on his death bed, as his heart rate was slowing, that she was going to make sure this didn’t happen to another family. “I whispered in his ear and told him how sorry I was that this happened to him,” she said.
“When we had his wake and his funeral, they had a shutdown of the Long Island Expressway to get us to Islip and then to Port Washington where his final resting place was, I really thought that was going to be enough to shake people, that no one would do it again,” McMorris said. “And I cried, sobbed, when the first death happened after Andrew, because I knew it wasn’t enough… that his ‘sacrifice,’ how I viewed it, wasn’t enough to change it for another family.”
Steve Chassman, the executive director at Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the recent events have been concerning.
“This is the tragedy of the highest order, when people are killed in the line of irresponsible behavior,” Chassman said. “We understand the disease of substance use disorder, meaning that we understand there are reasons people make unhealthy choices regarding alcohol and other drugs. We’re not here to absolve anyone of what are tragedies.”
When asked why someone might decide to get behind the wheel when they’re under the influence, Chassman, stating that LICCAD makes no excuses for substance abusers, said that alcohol and drugs mask fear.
“I also understand, and I’m not giving passes here, the young men that made a horrible decision and woke up in county jail, and have to deal with the shame and the guilt of under the influence of drugs and alcohol they made not only a horrible decision, but a tragic decision, that took the lives of innocent people,” Chassman said. “These young men are going to spend a better part of their lives incarcerated having to think about the lives they took and I can assure you this, I don’t know these two young men, but in the wake of this public health crisis, neither of them planned to take an innocent life when they left the house that evening, but after ingesting a multitude of different drugs, including alcohol, prescription medication, opioid, THC products, these tragedies unfold.”
“Although we understand substance use, first and foremost our heart and sympathies go out to families who have lost loved ones in the wake of these irresponsible and unhealthy choices,” Chassman added.
Nassau County Legislator Josh Lafazan, who is from Syosset, has also showed concern around the issue of drunk driving. He held a press conference shortly after the crash in Laurel Hollow, raising awareness about the fundraiser that would support the Urena children.
“As a local lawmaker, really what’s in our jurisdiction is to continue to work with law enforcement to increase patrols on our roadways, to make sure we are enforcing the law and to make sure we are catching folks across the country who are literally taking the lives of their fellow citizens into jeopardy and getting behind the wheel of a car, which is a weapon,” Lafazan said.
In his senior year of high school, Lafazan started a program called Safe Ride Syosset, driving home 350 kids, who were either drunk or were being driven by someone who was drunk, safely.
“That was before the prevalence of Uber and Lyft, so flash-forward to 2023, there is zero excuse for somebody to get behind the wheel when they are drunk or for somebody to let their driver drive while impaired,” Lafazan said. “There is no excuse. There are infinite alternative actions. As a society, we should have zero tolerance here.”
Lafazan stated that the government needs to act faster in what he called a public safety emergency.
“As a citizen, I’m calling on lawmakers in Albany and Washington to move on common sense items, whether it’s ignition interlock devices for people who have been caught drinking and driving, whether it’s more education in drivers ed and for younger drivers, whether it’s new tools for law enforcement to be able to increase enforcement… something needs to be done,” he said.
He added that the Nassau County Police Department has been “fantastic” on this issue, being aggressive and targeting drivers who are breaking the law.

How Do We Move Forward?
McMorris said that Mother’s Against Drunk Driving [MADD] has been pushing for a number of bills in Albany, including lowering the BAC limit to .05 BAC and passing “Andrew’s Law,” which would correct longstanding inequalities and inequities as it relates to victims of violent offenses.
For more information about these sets of bills, visit andrewmcmorrisfoundation.org/legislation.
“I talk to thousands of high school students. I go into high schools with the Suffolk County DA’s Office, Choices and Consequences Program, and we tell tragic stories,” McMorris said. “We don’t want to cause anybody more pain and trauma, but we want our stories to sit with people just long enough so that when they’re put in a really hard decision, they can make the right one. Peer pressure doesn’t end when they leave high school, in fact I think it’s worse when you’re an adult.”
Chassman added that LICADD also goes to schools to educate students on how drugs and alcohol can impact their ability to make healthy and rational decisions.
But how can we prevent ourselves and our friends and family from drinking and driving in our everyday lives?
McMorris recommends rewarding designated drivers when hosting.
“Be aware of who your designated drivers are and award them… they don’t have to just sit there, they can have a non-alcoholic cocktail,” McMorris said. “We are not second class citizens if we choose not to drink alcohol, we should be able to drink something fancy but it doesn’t have any alcohol. At all of my parties, all of my sodas go in the glasses just like the cocktails do.”
Apps like Uber and Lyft can also provide a safe ride home at any time of the day, with just a touch of a button. And while it can get a little expensive, especially during the later hours, it’s certainly better than the financial impact of getting busted for a Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), or, more tragically, losing your own life or costing someone else’s.
“There was no Uber growing up,” Chassman said. “Now it’s an app. You can use your phone and someone will come pick you up. There’s no rational reason to drive under the influence of drugs in 2023.”
Reach LICADD 24 hours a day and speak with a clinician at 516-747-2606.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here