Desk of the DA: Prom Parties and Drunk Driving

A public service announcement from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore:

As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I am asked every year at this time about student safety, and the responsibilities of students, parents and schools as high school proms are held and graduation approaches. We all want our young people to enjoy these important milestones, and we have a shared responsibility to ensure that their celebrations are safe and lawful, free of drug use and underage drinking.

Last month, in anticipation of prom and graduation season, I sent a letter to high school principals throughout the county about alcohol consumption by young people in order to enlist their support in spreading an important public safety message. Teen drinking is associated with serious negative behaviors and outcomes, including motor vehicle crashes, assault, sexual assault and suicide. An important part of our responsibility as leaders in the community and as parents is to set limits that help ensure teens’ safety, and proms and graduation are no exception.

As parents, it is our job to help our sons and daughters plan safe and lawful graduation celebrations. We do this not only because of the possible adverse legal consequences, but because of the high priority we place on our children’s safety. That said, it is also important to know that under the New York State Penal Law, any person who gives, sells or causes to be given or sold any alcoholic beverage to someone under the age of 21 faces potential prosecution. This law applies not only to a host parent, but to any teenager who is 16 and older. If you are hosting a house party, it is your responsibility to ensure that an appropriate adult will be present to supervise and keep the party drug and alcohol free. For their safety, if your son or daughter is attending a party at another home, you should inquire to make certain that there is appropriate adult supervision. Last, if during the course of a party someone becomes sick or injured, whether or not there has been underage drinking, act responsibly and call 911. Your actions or the actions of your child in seeking assistance for someone in need will be taken into account by the District Attorney’s office.

Working with licensed sellers of alcohol to ensure their compliance with their legal responsibilities with respect to the sale of alcohol to minors is also an important piece of our underage drinking prevention initiative. We sent our age placards to more than two thousand licensed sellers for display in their establishments. Throughout the year we work with local police to conduct compliance checks and I am happy to report that of the 74 underage drinking compliance checks completed in nine local jurisdictions, there was a 92% compliance rate by the vendors.

Making responsible choices about driving is also critical in ensuring safety. As always, whether it is you or your child driving, remember it is illegal to operate a vehicle when your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol. If necessary, designate a driver or arrange for alternate transportation home. In the last three years, the number of arrests for drunk driving and driving while impaired were as high in June as they are during the holiday season in December, according to data compiled by the Westchester Intelligence Center.

Despite legal and public education initiatives, the number of DWI arrests remains disturbingly high. According to New York State statistics, in 2010, there were 289 felony and 2,009 misdemeanor DWI arrests in Westchester County.* Under Leandra’s Law, the new statute that enhances penalties for the intoxicated or impaired driver when there is a passenger under the age of 16 in the vehicle, there were 55 arrests in Westchester County in 2010.

As District Attorney, I am committed to tough enforcement and proactive public education. I hope you will join me in this ongoing effort to make our communities, our families and our celebrations safer.

Wrong-way drunken driver pleads guilty

A 24-year-old Connecticut man has admitted to his role in a wrong-way drunken driving crash that seriously hurt three young women on Interstate 684 in April.

Ricardo Martinez-Arenas of Stamford, Conn. pleaded guilty today to aggravated vehicular assault, a felony, and aggravated driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

He agreed to serve 3 to 9 years in state prison as part of his plea. He will be sentenced on October 19th.

Prosecutors said Martinez-Arenas was driving south in the northbound lanes of I-684 in the early morning hours of April 24, 2010, when he crashed head-on with another car in Lewisboro.

The impact caused his car to burst into flames. The three women, who were 18 to 21 years old, were badly hurt. The driver remains in a wheelchair, according to the District Attorney’s office.

State police said Martinez-Arenas had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.