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DRIVING IT HOME

YNN is working New York State Police to bring you a new segment, "Driving it Home." Each month, our Megan Cruz will drive home a lesson in safe driving on our roads.

04/30/2013 09:02 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Programs aim to keep drunk drivers off the roads
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Drinking and driving is a big problem. Just this past weekend, five people in our area were arrested for getting behind the wheel drunk. Why aren't people getting the message about how dangerous and potentially deadly it can be? Our Megan Cruz is in Bethlehem with this month's Driving it Home.

BETHLEHEM, N.Y. -- Class is in session at the New York State Police Academy.

Trooper Joe Germano teaches DWI enforcement here. It's a two-week curriculum: 40 hours of field sobriety testing, another 40 hours of breath test training.

"The bottom line is we're trying to save lives. There has been over 300 deaths a year on New York State roadways that result from DWI," said Trooper Germano.

When arrested, DWI offenders face fines, driving restrictions, sometimes jail. They also have to attend a DWI Victim Impact Panel.

Offenders file into Guilderland Town Hall. If getting arrested isn't enough, organizers hope tonight's experience scares them sober.

But they say believe it or not, some people show up drunk. One person blew a BAC of .14.

"You can't attend the class, judge may up your sentence," said Lieutenant Kerry Thompson, Albany County Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Thompson is also a coordinator for the county's STOP DWI Program, the organization that hosts these victim impact panels. Thompson says efforts to stop people from drinking and driving are not as impactful as he'd like.

"No matter how much education we do, how many PSAs we put out there, it seems like every panel is about the same size, in excess of 200 people," said Lt. Thompson.

And they range in age from under 18 to over 65. Despite this, panelists like Ed Frank keep trying.

"We really care. This is not a joke - we really care," said Ed Frank.

Frank is from a safe driving program called Choices 301.

"It's no longer the drunk at 3 a.m. This is the drunk that's out there 24/7. And everyone should be concerned about that," Frank said.

Another person on the panel: New York State Police Investigator Anthony Catalfamo. He was almost killed by a drunk driver back in 2002.

"I don't have the full range of motion in my neck. I have pain in my back and shoulders," said Catalfamo.

Thompson says it's disappointing to see repeat offenders at panels, some with BACs as high as four times the legal limit.

"It has to be personal responsibility at one point , the public has to realize they can't do this," said Lt. Kerry.

Until that happens...

"Just to continue and not give up... Continue training police officers stressing the importance of enforcement of DWI laws," said Germano.


04/30/2013 08:29 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Former Congressman shares story of his struggle
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Drunk driving remains to be a big problem. We had five DWI arrested just this past weekend. The big question is how to scare people sober? Megan Cruz talks to someone who was very high profile, and at the pinnacle of his career went through this, and found out what he learned from the experience.


BETHLEHEM, N.Y. -- “A political magazine had me as the 54th most powerful guy in the country in 2005...and four years later, I was contemplating ending my life.”

Sobering words from former Congressman John Sweeney, who says his drinking spiraled out of control in 2006.

“I tried to stop but couldn't. I'd wake up in the morning and say I wouldn't drink today and by noon I would be,” said Sweeney.

Looking back, he said it was to numb the bitter sting of defeat. Elected to serve the 20th Congressional District in 1999, he lost his reelection in 2006 to then-political newcomer Kirsten Gillibrand.

“There was a lot of sadness to that but there was also the thought that I was free now to do whatever I want,” said Sweeney.

That sense of freedom fueling an addiction he’d been denying to himself and others for more than 40 years.

But on November 11th, 2007, there was no hiding it any longer. Sweeney was arrested for DWI, blowing a BAC of .18. He pleaded guilty: paid upwards of a $1,000 in fines and attorney fees, and his license was suspended for six months.

Less than two years later, he was caught again, and this time, it was a felony DWI. Sweeney took a plea deal: 30 days in prison, three years probation in which he's wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his alcohol intake, 300 hours of community service, thousands of dollars in fines and attorney fees, and the revocation of his driver’s license.

Thankfully, no one was hurt in either incident.

It was a fall so far from the proverbial pedestal that Sweeney says he’s still trying to climb back up.

"Fighting to save my house, fighting to build a business and be able to sustain a life," said Sweeney. "I've got to earn that respect back. I accept that that's part of the price for being where I was and what I did."

Where he is now? In Latham, at one of a couple new offices as part of his private law practice. He says he's been sober for four years this month.

"In the end it wasn't the DWIs that ended it. It was me and the choice to live," said Sweeney.

Sweeney now speaks at schools, on DWI victim impact panels. He hopes others learn from his mistakes, so they don't fall as far as he did.

"It just reminds me of what my potential is, you know? I was Congressman John Sweeney."


04/30/2013 08:01 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Keeping drunk drivers off the roads
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Drinking and driving is a dangerous combination, and in some cases deadly, yet dozens of people are arrested every day for DWI related incidents. What does it take to scare drunk drivers sober? Our Megan Cruz is in Bethlehem with more on this month's Driving it Home.


01/25/2013 10:26 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Avoiding winter weather-related accidents
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We've seen a lot of snow and frigid weather the past few weeks. With the inclement weather comes a reminder for safe driving. Our Megan Cruz has some helpful information in this month’s Driving it Home.

LATHAM, N.Y. -- Winter driving isn't out of the ordinary for people here in New York, but despite that, there are still thousands of winter weather-related accidents a year.

With two hands on the wheel, trooper Lenny Fornabia makes his way down 787. It's not too long before he comes across an accident.

"They were coming off a ramp, they clearly didn't reduce their speed, and they lost control of the car," said trooper Fornabia.

Winter driving woes. Drivers know to expect it here in New York. But still, Trooper Fornabia says last year there were 25,000 car accidents where the winter weather was a factor. Ways to not become a statistic this year?

"Biggest mistake is going too fast," he explained.

And did you know that in a storm, what's considered too fast might be below the posted speed limit?

"The posted speed limit is the speed limit for a sunny, dry day when conditions are ideal. Once you get snow, rain, sleet, ice, that posted speed limit is no longer the speed limit. The speed limit then becomes whatever it takes for you to stay in control of your vehicle."

Fornabia says a trooper can issue a ticket if a driver's speed contributed to the crash. And again, that speed could be below what's there on the sign. Trooper Fornabia says slow down, especially on the ramps.

"The highways are plowed before the ramps, so someone driving on the highway will have a false sense of security that the road is clear, they'll get on a ramp, fail to reduce their speeds and they'll end up off the ramps," said trooper Fornabia.

Same goes for driving on bridges and overpasses. He says those tend to get icy quicker.

Fornabia says the second biggest mistake is driving too close to the car in front of you.

"You should leave about three times more distance between yourself and the vehicle in front of you in a snowstorm."

That goes for even those with four-wheel drive. Fornabia says it's common for people to think they're safer in those cars.

"Four--wheel drive will help them accelerate and maintain control of their vehicle. However, four-wheel drive does not give them any additional benefits to braking,” said trooper Fornabia.

Lastly, Fornabia says to clean off your cars. In New York State, he says you have to completely clear off your windshield, lights, side view mirrors, and license plate. But, you should take the extra couple minutes to do it all.

“It's like the mattress on the roof of the car. At some point the air is going to get under it and want to pull it up. You're blinding someone behind you or other vehicles around you, it creates a dangerous condition."

And for those still lazy with the brush, just avoid them and be a defensive driver.


01/25/2013 08:40 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Driving in snow and ice
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If you're from this area, you're used to driving in the winter. But there are ways to make your trips in the snow and ice even safer. Our Megan Cruz has more.


01/25/2013 07:32 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Winter weather driving
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We've had our share of winter weather this season, and with it, a number of fender benders. That's why this month's Driving it Home is about helping us be prepared out there on the roads. Our Megan Cruz reports.


Updated 12/18/2012 01:21 PM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Troopers go undercover, catch four people selling alcohol to minors
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In 2010 alone, New York State had about 350 alcohol-related fatal crashes. Of those drivers, 22 were underage. Ten years ago, that number was 48. The State Police credits this 50 percent drop to a number of initiatives, including monthly undercover crackdowns on people selling alcohol to minors. Our Megan Cruz has this month's Driving it Home.

RENSSELAER COUNTY, N.Y. -- A briefing at SP Schodack before a 17-year-old goes undercover. For that reason, YNN is concealing his identity.

"You're not to have any ID on you at any time. If you're ever asked at any point how old you are, you're not to lie at all," said Sgt. Scott Dauphinais. He's the commander in charge of this operation.

"Just go straight to the cooler, grab some sort of alcoholic beverage - beer, whatever - go up to the clerk, just put it on the table," he continued. "If they ask you how old you are, tell them your age. If they ask you if you have an ID, tell them you don't have an ID. At that point, they should refuse to sell to you and you just leave the establishment."

The first stop on their sting: the Jiff-E-Mart in Castleton. The objective? To make sure stores, bars, restaurants, and the like aren't selling alcohol to minors.

"Can I see your ID?" asked one Jiff-E-Mart clerk.

"I actually don't have it on me," said the undercover teen.

The clerk called over to a co-worker: "Sonny, he doesn't have his ID on him," she said.

A pause.

"Huh?" she says. "Ok. $3.28."

"Ok, we got a sale," said Sgt. Dauphinais. "That was very quick."

"The charge is going to be unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree - a class A misdemeanor," he explained. "Basically, if you sell alcohol to a child, you're guilty of that charge. Or, if you give cause to be sold to that child, you're also guilty of that charge. So that's why they were both arrested for this case."

Dauphinais says in the four years he's been conducting these random checks, he's never had an arrest here at the Jiff-E-Mart. He says he hopes this sting gets them back on track since selling to a minor has dire consequences.

"Then they'll be behind the wheel when they're intoxicated and it can lead to a tragedy," said Dauphinais.

Next stop: Mahar's on South Main Street.

"We'll take two Blue Moon Lights, please," said the teen.

A pause.

"Do I pay now?" he asked.

"If you want," says the bartender.

Two for two.

"You understand what happened here tonight?" Dauphinais asked the bar's owner.

"24 years working the bar!" screamed the bartender. "I always proof!"

Eight places in southern Rensselaer County were checked during this operation. They arrested one more that night at a Mobil in East Greenbush.

"I had a headache," said the clerk as he tried to explain why he didn't card.

"Well you have to ID everyone," said the sergeant.

Sgt. Dauphinais says these compliance checks are a necessary tactic.

"I don't really see it as tricking people because if they're doing what they're suppose to do, they should be carding every patron that comes through the door that looks less than 40," he said.

And with alcoholic beverages becoming more diverse, some even masking as energy drinks, the State Police just wants to keep establishments on their toes.

The sergeant says the good thing is that the majority of people do the right thing, but says the checks will still keep coming.

"Anytime a juvenile walks in there and tries to buy alcohol, hopefully they think it's us and that type of deterrent hopefully prevents a sale," said Dauphinais.

And those places caught selling to minors will be referred to the New York State Liquor Authority.

The four arrested will face fines, and even up to a year in jail.


12/18/2012 06:36 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Cracking down on underage drunk drivers
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From now till the end of the year, State Police will be cracking down on drunk drivers. They say a portion of them will be underage. Our Megan Cruz is in Altamont with this month's Driving it Home.

-Choices 301 in Altamont, N.Y.
http://www.choices301.com/

-NYS police: http://www.troopers.ny.gov/


10/23/2012 08:31 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Q&A with State Police on driving dos and don'ts
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Roundabouts can be confusing to some drivers if you're not used to navigating them. Do you know how to navigate a roundabout? Our Megan Cruz takes a closer look in this month's Driving it Home series.


Updated 10/23/2012 08:15 AM Posted By: Megan Cruz
Albany/HV: Driving it Home: Navigating through roundabouts
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More and more roundabouts are replacing our area's typical intersections, but the new traffic pattern has some motorists’ heads spinning. That’s why this month’s Driving it Home focuses on the right way to drive through roundabouts, as well as other types of lanes. Our Megan Cruz reports.


NEW YORK -- They’re popular in other countries, but here in the United States they’re fairly new. Meaning a fair amount of frustrated drivers and accidents.

"You want to approach with caution, yield to vehicles already in the roundabout," explained Lenny Fornabia, NYS Trooper.

Trooper Lenny Fornabia says most accidents happen because drivers don’t yield. Or, they switch lanes within the circle.

"People set their mirrors up to be driving straight - they're not setting them up to be looking at something in a circle," said Trooper Fornabia.

So he says slow down, and follow the signs.

"If you're going to go straight or to the right, typically you want to be in the right lane. If you're gonna go left, stay in the left lane," said Fornabia.

Whoops - made a mistake? Again, Fornabia stresses staying in your lane.

"The beautiful part about roundabouts is I'm in a circle so I can continue in the circle for as long as I have to to get into the right lane,” he explained.

No excuses now that you know the proper way to round these new roundabouts. No surprise though, while out for this story, we saw other improper uses of other types of lanes, like the two left turn lane.

"That is designed for someone making a left turn. Typically what happens is people use it as a driving lane," said Fornabia.

Fornabia says another road that should be less travelled is the shoulder.

"The shoulders are more or less restricted to pedestrians and cyclists," said Fornabia.

Trooper Fornabia says he's driving these rules home because using these roadways the right way is crucial.

"Everybody's in a rush to get somewhere and they don't want to sit there and sometimes follow the rules of the road. The rules of the road are there because it makes it safer for everybody," said Fornabia.


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