More offenders hear Heichel’s tragic story

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Peggy Heichel in front with the state VIP award for dedication toward DWI prevention is surrounded by (from left): Yates County Public Health Director Deborah Minor, District Attorney Valerie Gardner, Sheriff Ron Spike, Probation Director Sharon Dawes, Police Chief Mark Hulse, and FLACRA Addictions Counselor Nancy Brunskill.

The Yates County STOP DWI Program sponsored its annual spring Yates County Drunk/Impaired Driving Victim Impact Panel (VIP) April 16 at the County Office Building auditorium.

Sheriff Ron Spike, who chairs the Task Force VIP, said, “Our mission is to expose driving under the influence offenders to the human factor of suffering that impaired driving can cause people affected by a related crash, and how lives, families and friends are forever altered by a bad choice to drink or take illegal drugs and then drive a vehicle.”

All courts in the county, in sentencing offenders, make attending the panel a condition of the sentence, as required by the Vehicle and Traffic law.

Thirty-four court-ordered offenders and 17 guests and drivers appeared for check-in, magnetometer screening, and breath testing by Sheriff’s Deputies, Court Security, and Penn Yan Police Dept. before the panel commenced. Yates County Probation Officers were also present for registration. Penn Yan Police Chief Mark Hulse issued the rules for the session. The STOP programs VIP Coordinator Kerry Brennan organized the event and showed a slide presentation with DWI related crash scenes and statistical information on drunk driving.

Opening remarks were from Spike and District Attorney Valerie Gardner. The evening’s panel speaker was Ms. Peggy Heichel from Wellsboro, Pa., who coordinates the MADD (Mothers against drunk driving) program in Tioga County Pa. She shared an emotional story of how 24 years ago she lost her husband and three of her five young children in a DWI-related crash. As they were coming home from church one evening, their vehicle was struck head-on by a drunk driver. The other driver and his passenger were also killed.

The attendees completed an evaluation form and received a certificate of attendance for their submission to the courts for verification that they attended as ordered. Guests included county legislators, town justices and clerks, Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy, Probation Director Sharon Dawes, Buildings & Grounds Superintendent Joe Reed, CSO Derek Christensen, Addictions Counselor Nancy Brunskill from FLACRA, and Public Health Director Deb Minor, who helped to coordinate the event.

Spike thanked the members of the county task force and Ms. Heichel for making this VIP a success. “If we can change behaviors and attitudes, then good choices will replace bad ones,” Spike said, concluding, “Peggy’s story about being victimized by a drunk driver killing most of her family is very compelling. She truly is a survivor, and those in attendance certainly realized how her life and family was forever impacted by a drunk driver.”

Heichel was recognized by the New York State Governors Traffic Safety Committee, MADD and Department of Criminal Justice Services last November in Schenectady.  She was unable to attend the ceremony, so her award was accepted by Spike at the time.

The Task Force members made the presentation to her privately after the panel concluded, honoring her dedication to DWI prevention and telling her tragic story to others.