New York Needs to Close Drunk Driving Loophole

The New York State legislature need to pass a law making it illegal for a drunk driver to leave the scene of an accident.

A man behind the wheel of his car.

It's called "Alix's Law," or it will be, if it ever passes the New York State legislature. And it's a no-brainer to deal with the deliberately brainless who drive drunk and hit someone.

That's what happened to Alix Rice, a Buffalo-area teenager who was skateboarding home—in the bike lane—from her job at a pizza place in July of last year. A wealthy and well-connected local doctor, James G. Corasanti, was driving his BMW after spending hours as a country club—an outing at which, it was noted in the trial, Corasanti drank five rum and cokes, plus wine and champagne. He hit the teenager so hard that she was propelled 167 feet, breaking her neck and causing other injuries. Then he drove home. The doctor—whom supporters during the trial period lauded as a life-saver for his patients, left the girl to die.

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He wasn't just drunk, he was speeding and texting. Further, prosecutors said, Corasanti deleted texts and removed the victim's blood and body tissue from his fancy car before turning himself in to authorities. Said Christopher J. O'Brien, the attorney representing Rice's estate, to the Buffalo News:

The revelations are absolutely stunning. He was speeding. He was in the bike lane. He was texting. He was drinking and driving. Short of driving with his eyes closed, I don't know what more he could have done in terms of being reckless.

Corasanti was charged with a series of crimes, and it's natural to expect that he is now serving a lengthy prison term for killing a young person through his own poor judgment, then callously fleeing the scene as she died. Coransati indeed got the maximum sentence—and it was only a year behind bars.

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The not-so-good doctor—who had been cited in the past for driving while his abilities were impaired—was indeed found guilty of driving while drunk. But since the defense argued that he did not know he had hit someone—is that what heavy drinking will do?—he was not convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a crime that carries a maximum seven-year prison term. The jury could convict him only of drunk driving (his blood alcohol level, taken five hours after the accident and then only after a court forced him to submit to testing, was 0.10 percent. Prosecutors estimated that at the time he was driving, his blood alcohol level was between 0.14 and 0.21 percent).

Albany, thankfully, is moving towards fixing this hole in the law. Two Western New York state legislators, Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan and Assemblyman Dennis R. Gabryszak, have proposed a bill that would automatically hold drunk drivers accountable for leaving the scene of an accident. In other words, you couldn't escape the serious charge of leaving your own alcohol-caused crime scene because you were too drunk to know what you were doing. The bill got lost in the end-of-session chaos in Albany. Let's hope it's the first thing on their agenda when they return next year.