Tackling Drugged, Distracted Driving

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini's office was part of a three-week investigation that led to the arrest of a couple linked to the overdose of a Riverhead man in April.

Suffolk County’s assistant district attorneys and investigators from the Vehicular Crimes Bureau will soon find themselves in different roles on the prevention side of the law, educating teens on the dangers of impaired and reckless driving.

District Attorney Tim Sini used prom season as a springboard last week to announce an outreach program — Choices and Consequences — with aims to educate high school students and their parents on the abovementioned dangers.

The program is based on a presentation created in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office and later adopted by the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. It outlines facts and statistics on impaired and reckless driving, features interactive skits showing how police officers respond to crash scenes and detect impairment, and demonstrates the impacts of alcohol and drugs on motor skills.

Choices and Consequences has been expanded to combat the opioid epidemic — in Suffolk — to educate participants about the dangers of substance use and abuse, and will include a screening of a public service announcement, entitled “Hey, Charlie.” The PSA tells the story of a young man from childhood through young adulthood, when his life, due to his drug use, spirals out of control until his fatal overdose. It ends with a note of encouragement for those struggling with substance abuse to seek treatment.

That video segment portion of the program is part of a partnership with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which, along with the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation, released the PSA.

“Whether it’s texting and driving, drinking, or doing drugs and driving, these decisions can be fatal. The ‘Choices and Consequences’ program drives that message home to teens and their parents by using real-life examples that unfortunately have changed lives forever, have taken lives from us prematurely, and have devastated victims’ families and friends here in Suffolk County,” Sini said.

LICADD Executive Director Steve Chassman said the organization is proud to partner with Sini’s office as it takes the lead in making sure that the life-saving education is provided to every student and every parent in the county.

“It’s so important when dealing with a disease that is potentially preventable to get this message out in every Long Island school. This is how we are going to turn the corner on this epidemic,” Chassman added.

In a previous address last month before the public at a forum organized by the Southampton Town Opioid Addiction Task Force, Sini announced a different approach to opioid abuse cases, including new programs aimed at prevention and reducing recidivism.

The leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Suffolk, the leading cause of motor vehicle crashes is impaired driving, and the second is reckless or distracted driving.

During District Attorney Sini’s tenure as the county’s police commissioner, motor vehicle crashes within the police district, the portion of the county including the five townships to the west, were reduced by more than 30 percent, credited to a multi-pronged enforcement effort to increase traffic safety.

“I’m proud to say that the Suffolk County Police Department and its partners have been successful in reducing motor vehicle crashes that result in serious physical injuries or fatalities, but enforcement is just one piece of our approach. We need to educate; we need to raise awareness of making bad decisions behind the wheel,” Sini said.

Sini noted that with prom season coming up, it’s the perfect time for schools to provide the presentation. “It’s a terrific opportunity for schools to be on the cutting edge of education and prevention,” he added.

The DA’s office is inviting school districts and community groups across the county to participate in the program by emailing [email protected] or calling 631-853-5602.

To view “Hey, Charlie,” visit youtu.be/wXZPyrhYqiM.

[email protected]

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