Yates County holds DWI Victim Impact Panel

Staff reports
The Chronicle-Express

PENN YAN – The Yates County STOP DWI Program sponsored the Yates County Drunk/Impaired Driving Victim Impact Panels (VIP) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 21  at the County Office Building auditorium. Covid-19 pandemic safety with social spacing guidelines and masking was required.

Victim Impact Panel

Sheriff Ron Spike, who chairs the Task Force VIP said, “Our mission is to have driving under the influence by alcohol or drugs offenders understand the human factor of victimization that impaired driving can cause others affected by a related crash and how lives, families and friends are forever affected by making a bad choice to drink or take illegal drugs, and then drive a motor vehicle.” All town and village courts, as well as the Yates County court, as a part of the final disposition of a DWI related case order the attending of a VIP as a condition of the sentence.

Thirty court-ordered offenders attended along with several guests, including Public Health Director Ann Marie Flanagan and County Legislator Bonnie Percy. All offenders appeared for check-in, magnetometer screening, and breath testing by sheriff’s deputies, court security, and Penn Yan police officers before the panel commenced. Penn Yan Police also encountered two individuals driving into the event with suspended driver licenses and took enforcement action. One individual was not admitted due to having a nearly .05% BAC, contrary to the court order. Yates County Probation officers were also present for registration and assistance, including Director Sharon Dawes at reception.

Penn Yan Police Chief Thomas Dunham issued the rules for the session. The STOP programs VIP Coordinator Linda Wright organized the event. CSO Eric Burden operated the audiovisual presentation. Spike served as emcee and made opening remarks that emphasized awareness that the legalization of marihuana does not make it legal to drive drugged or stoned. Driving while one’s ability is impaired by marijuana or drugs remains illegal in NY State. Additional remarks were from the Yates County First Assistant District Attorney Alyxandra Stanczak who spoke on legal consequences and creating crime victims.

The panel speaker was Michelle Curtin, a teacher in the Wayland-Cohocton Central School District in Steuben County. She presented a story about her mother, also a teacher, who lost her life in a tragic head-on collision with a 29-year-old drunk driver who had a 0.32% BAC; and how that affected her and her family, as well as her mother's young elementary school students who were never to see their teacher again. Curtin has turned her grief into a campaign of awareness for parents and teens in an effort to prevent similar tragedies. The Steuben County STOP DWI program has recognized her. Spike said, “Those in attendance certainly realized how her life and family was forever impacted by someone not thinking, and driving drunk with a very high BAC.”

Dunham added, “We hope these panels will help drunk and drugged driving offenders recognize and internalize the lasting and long-term effects of substance-impaired driving. The classes seek to create an empathy and understanding of the tragedy, and hopefully leave a permanent impression that leads to changes in thinking and behavior and prevents future offenses.”

The attendees then completed an evaluation form and received a certificate of attendance for their submission to the courts for verification that they attended as ordered. The event lasted about 75 minutes. Spike thanked the members of the county task force, the First Assistant DA, and Michelle Curtin.

“If we make good choices instead of bad ones, the consequences won’t be deadly,” said VIP Coordinator Linda Wright.