Articles Posted in DWI In The News

On November 18, 2009, a Westchester County jury found 25 year old George Kiaha guilty of vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide for the September 4, 2009 death of Cortlandt resident Ralph Wood. It was alleged that on that date, Mr. Kiaha was driving while intoxicated with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.11 when his car crossed a double yellow line and struck the car Mr. Wood was a passenger in. The legal limit for intoxication is 0.08 percent. Wood’s vehicle was also occupied by his daughter, her fiance, and three grandchildren, who were all injured.

Mr. Kiaha was also convicted of 5 counts of reckless driving and DWI for each of the other occupants of the vehicle. Those counts are misdemeanors. The prosecution introduced evidence of bottles of Bud Light in Kiaha’s vehicle as well as the testimony of emergency personnel who claimed that they smelled alcohol on Mr. Kiaha’s breath. The defense countered with the argument that there was a “chain of custody” issue with Mr. Kiaha’s blood (an argument that was successfully utilized in the O.J. Simpson murder trial back in 1995) and that the police were never able to determine the speed of Kiaha’s vehicle. However, it appears that the jury was not persuaded by these arguments; they returned a guilty verdict in three hours.

The 2nd degree vehicular manslaughter charge is a felony under section 125.12 of the New York State Penal Law and carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in jail. The criminally negligent homicide charge is a class E felony under section 125.10 of the Penal Law and has a maximum jail term of 4 years. Mr. Kiaha will be sentenced by Westchester Court Judge Barbara Zambelli on February 22, 2011.

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David Cassidy, the pop icon best known for his starring role in the 70’s sitcom “The Partridge Family” has been charged with driving while intoxicated in Fort Pierce, Florida. On November 3, 2010, Cassidy was pulled over when a Fort Pierce officer allegedly observed Cassidy’s car weaving in and out of traffic. Apparently, he informed the officer that he had taken a Hydrocodone earlier in the day.

Cassidy is alleged to have failed Field Sobriety Tests. Subsequently, it is claimed that a breathalyzer administered resulted in a blood alcohol concentration of 0.14, well above Florida’s legal limit. Reportedly, the investigating officer found a bottle of bourbon in the vehicle.

If Mr. Cassidy was charged with a New York DWI, with a legal limit of 0.08 percent, and was convicted with a BAC of 0.14, he would be facing the following: a minimum of a six month revocation of his driving privileges; court fees of at least $900.00; the requirement to attend and complete the New York State Drinking Driver Program, (DDP), payment of $750.00 in fines to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles; (NYSDMV) (known as a “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment”) and the installation of an ignition interlock device in his car for at least one year.

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Former New York Yankees catcher Jim Leyritz is presently on trial in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom accused of vehicular homicide and drunk driving. The charges arise out of an accident at 3:30 AM on December 28, 2007 in which Leyritz is accused of having disregarded a red light and striking a SUV driven by Fredia Ann Veitch. Ms. Veitch died as a result of her injuries at the age of 30.

Leyritz had apparently been out celebrating his birthday earlier that evening with tequila shots and Grey Goose vodka. He had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.14, almost twice the legal limit. Leyritz pled not guilty to the charges. He faces a sentence of as much as 15 years in prison if he is convicted.

During testimony on November 1, 2010, Garth Henry, a witness who was walking by the intersection, testified that Leyritz was “trying to catch a yellow light he wasn’t going to make”. However, Henry was forced to admit on cross examination that he did not look up until he heard the sound of screeching brakes. There were also no skid marks at the intersection, suggesting that both vehicles had gone past the light before they applied their brakes.

Prosecutors have indicated that they have witness testimony from a passenger in Leyritz’ car who will confirm that he did not stop for the red light. Supposedly, Ms. Veitch was also intoxicated and texting at the time of the accident. However, the judge has ruled that the jury will not hear that evidence, as the issue remains whether Leyritz was intoxicated and ran the red light.

Leyritz’ attorney claims that a police detective will testify that Leyritz was not slurring his words or losing his balance when he was given field sobriety tests at the scene. However, the prosecutor told jurors that the police video of the field sobriety tests will show that Leyritz could not follow instructions, another sign of intoxication that the tests are designed to elicit.

If Leyritz were convicted in of New York vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, he would be facing a 1 to 7 year prison term for this Class D felony. As for for the DWI charges, Leyritz would lose his license for at least 6 months, be required to undergo alcohol assessment, have to take the 7 week New York State Drinking Driver Program, attend one session of a Mother’s Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel, pay Court fines of at least $900.00, and pay the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) a $750.00 “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment.” Further, he would have to install an ignition interlock device in any vehicle he owns or operates for at least 6 months.

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New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards was charged with DWI this past Tuesday when his Range Rover was pulled over by New York City police for having excessively tinted windows. Allegedly, Edwards failed field sobriety tests and took a breathalyzer which revealed a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .16%, which is twice the legal limit of .08% in New York State.

The NFL has a “Player Protect Program”, which is a 24 hour driving service strictly for professional athletes. If a player needs a lift home, he can call at any time and will be driven home in a luxury SUV. Unfortunately for Edwards and the Jets, he did not avail himself of this service, and now faces a New York DWI and DWAI (driving while ability impaired) charges. Edwards was signed by the Jets last year after being released by the Cleveland Browns when he was charged with aggravated disorderly conduct as the result of allegedly punching a friend of Lebron James outside a nightclub. He pled guilty to misdemeanor aggravated disorderly conduct in January. The outcome of the DWI case could cause Mr. Edwards to have a probation violation back in Cleveland. Thus, his attorney will attempt to negotiate a plea in New York which would not trigger a probation violation in Ohio.

If Edwards is convicted or pleads guilty to a DWI charge, he could face up to 12 months in jail, is subject to a fine of approximately $900.00, will have his license to operate a motor vehicle revoked for at least 6 months, and will have to install an ignition interlock in any vehicles he owns or operates. He will also be required to attend alcohol treatment classes, and a 7 week program sponsored by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYDMV) known as the “Drinking Driver Program.”

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The wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been charged with Driving while impaired by drugs within one month of pleading guilty to a Driving while ability impaired (DWAI) in the Bedford Town Court. This past Saturday, Ms. Kennedy was arrested by police in Dutchess County after allegedly being observed driving 82 m.p.h on the Taconic Parkway. When she failed standardized field sobriety tests, and was examined by a drug-recognition expert at the police barracks in Millbrook, New York, she was charged with DWAID, or driving while ability impaired by drugs.

Back on July 22, 2010, in the Bedford Town Court, Ms. Kennedy pled guilty to a reduced charge of driving while ability impaired arising out of an incident on May 15, 2010, in which police in Bedford observed Ms. Kennedy’s vehicle strike a curb outside a school. At that time, she was found to have a BAC of .11, more than the legal limit of 0.08%, which resulted in a DWI charge. Kennedy’s sentence in the Bedford case included a $500.00 fine, the requirement to attend the mandatory drinking driver program, (which is a seven week class that all motorists convicted of any DWI charge must take), and an order that she submit her quarterly evaluations from her psychiatrist to the Court.

Most critically for Ms. Kennedy, she was permitted to obtain a “Conditional discharge” and conditional license in the Bedford case, which allowed her to drive in limited circumstances including to and from work, DDP classes, to an accredited educational institution, and medical appointments for her herself and family members. The terms of the conditional discharge mandated that Ms. Kennedy not have any other DWI or other criminal charges within one year of the July 22 guilty plea.

Thus, if the new charges are substantiated, in addition to the penalties she will face in the August 21 incident, Ms. Kennedy will be found to have “violated her conditional discharge”, losing her conditional license and facing the possibility that Bedford Town Judge Kevin Quaranta will sentence her to up to 15 days in jail as the maximum penalty for the original DWAI conviction.

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Beginning on August 15, 2010, as part of Leandra’s Law passed by the New York State Legislature last November, motorists convicted of New York DWI will be required to install and maintain ignition interlocks in their vehicles. The law will apply to drivers convicted of felony DWI or misdemeanor DWI. Anyone convicted of or pleading guilty to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 BAC or above will be required to obtain the ignition interlock.

The ignition interlock measures the level of alcohol of a motorist’s breath. If the device detects a trace of alcohol on the driver’s breath, it will not permit the car to start. Further, the driver will periodically have to blow into the device on a regular schedule, and if he or she fails to do so, or does have alcohol on his or her breath, the car’s horn will begin to sound, or the lights will start flashing, to alert authorities that the driver has failed to comply with the ignition interlock system in the vehicle. Some devices will cut off the ignition if the driver has failed the test while driving.

The Westchester County Department of Probation will administer the ignition interlock program here in Westchester County. It will be interesting to see how the program functions in the early stages, since at present, the installation of ignition interlocks in vehicles has only applied to multiple DWI offenders or in felony DWI cases. Thus, adding on misdemeanor and first time DWI offenders will substantially increase the burden on the Probation Department and likely create enforcement problems in the early stages of the ignition interlock program.

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A recent New York DWI case in Port Chester highlights the significance of Leandra’s Law, which was enacted by the New York State Legislature in November of 2009. Under Leandra’s Law, also known as the Child Passenger Protection Act, a motorist with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or above, or under the influence of drugs, with children under age 16 in the vehicle, is automatically charged with a felony, even if it is his or her first DWI charge. The law was named after Leandra Rosado, who was killed last October in New York City when her friend’s mother overturned her car while intoxicated. Several other children were also injured in that accident.

This week, Port Chester resident Marcos Venegas was charged with six counts of felony DWI when he was stopped by police with 6 children under the age of 16 in his car. Apparently, Mr. Venegas had to pull over when one of his passenger became sick, and the police claim that when they investigated Mr. Venegas smelled of alcohol and was found to have a blood alcohol content above 0.08. Venegas was released on $1,000 bail and is due back in Court in mid June.

Leandra’s Law contains very stiff penalties: A conviction without any injuries results in a class E felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison. If a child passenger is injured, the motorist may be charged with a Class C felony and face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. If a child is killed, the driver can be charged with a Class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

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On April 25, 2010, police in upstate Oneida County arrested a 20 year old Bedford resident for a New York drunk driving charge while he was supposedly driving at 153 mph. The driver, Shane Crolick, was reported to have been driving a 2005 Dodge Neon with three other people in the vehicle when he was chased by a trooper and eventually crashed his vehicle into a guardrail. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.

According to Terence Corcoran of, more than 100,000 drivers were convicted of speeding on Lower Hudson Valley roadways from ’06-’07 and about 450 were convicted of operating their vehicles in excess of 100 miles per hour.

Mr. Crolick is charged with Driving While Intoxicated (Blood alcohol level above 0.08 percent), reckless driving and unlawful flight (for attempting to avoid arrest), which are all misdemeanors under New York State law. He was released on $5,000 bail. If Mr. Crolick has no prior DWI’s and speeding tickets, he may be able to obtain a reduced plea to a DWAI, or Driving While Ability Impaired, which would then allow him to avoid a criminal record, as a DWAI is a traffic infraction, not a crime such as a DWI. However, due to the charge of operating at such a high speed under the Vehicle & Traffic Law, there is a question as to whether the local prosecutor would be willing to reduce the charges. We will attempt to follow the outcome of this case.

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Two off duty police officers in Westchester have been charged with New York drunk driving this month. On December 11, 2009, Michael Huffman, a 29 year old four year veteran of the Dobbs Ferry police force, was charged with DWI, speeding and crossing a double yellow line when he lost control of his Volkswagen Jetta and struck a guardrail in Tarrytown. Huffman was not seriously injured in the accident. He also refused to take a breath test and is due in Tarrytown Village Court on January 13, 2010. Huffman was placed on leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges.

On December 27, 2009, off-duty Westchester County police officer Joseph Kraus allegedly ran a red light while operating his Chevy pickup truck and struck a Scarsdale police car while intoxicated at the intersection of East Parkway and Popham Road in Scarsdale. Kraus admitted to having consumed 2-3 beers but refused to take a breathalyzer. Kraus was charged with misdemeanor DWI. Emergency personnel had to cut open the police cruiser, which was apparently demolished, to free Officer Jessica Knatz, who suffered facial and back injuries in the accident.

Ironically, 35 year old Officer Kraus had recently taken part in a WABC TV program which detailed the dangers of distracted driving as part of Westchester County’s “Crash Reduction Unit.” Kraus is suspended with pay pending a county police investigation.

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Beginning on December 18, 2009, it will now be a felony in New York to operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated with a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle. Leandra’s Law, named for Leandra Rosado, an 11 year old girl who was killed in a tragic New York DWI accident last October, will require that a motorist with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of more than 0.08 face a potential prison term of up to four years if they have a child 16 or under in the car. If the child is seriously injured in the DWI, the sentence could increase to 15 years, and if the child is killed, the potential jail term could be up to 25 years.

If convicted under Leandra’s Law, the motorist will have to install an interlock ignition system in the car, so that unless the driver is alcohol free, the car will not start. On August 15, 2010, the ignition interlock penalty will be assessed in all New York felony DWI or misdemeanor convictions. The interlock system costs approximately $100 to install and three dollars a day to use. The driver is required to pay these costs as part of his or her sentence.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) notes that there were 9,202 alcohol related accidents in 2008, with 488 children under 18 injured or killed. There were 5,970 felony DWI arrests in New York last year and over 46,000 misdemeanor DWI charges. The conviction rate was about 95% in these cases.

New York is now in the forefront of tough DWI enforcement around the country, especially if the motorist has young children in the car. The New York State Senate bill co-sponsor Martin Dilan noted that 59 children were killed or injured while passengers in a vehicle in a New York DWI accident in 2008. Governor Paterson stated: “Today, we are sending an important message to those who consider getting behind the wheel with a child while intoxicated. Today, we say enough.”

We will report on the effect of Leandra’s Law this spring when we have had a few months to see how local judges and district attorneys are enforcing its’ provisions.

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