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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

A plea in Brittney Walsh's memory: Don't drink, drive

Brittany Walsh who was killed in a car

Brittany Walsh who was killed in a car accident last night on Montauk highway in Lindenhurst. (June 25, 2012) Credit: Photo by handout

Don't drink and drive.

Not a car, a boat or anything else this July Fourth holiday.

This is more than a request. It's a plea in memory of Brittney Walsh, who should have been prepping for the holiday with her family before heading off for college in the fall, and in memory of Christopher Mannino, who should have been readying for a weekend on the water.

It is a plea in memory of every man, woman and child whose lives were wrenched away by someone's decision to drink and drive.

Walsh, of Lindenhurst, died Sunday -- two days after high school graduation -- after a suspected drunken driver slammed her car in the rear, police said.

Mannino died one day earlier after falling off a fishing boat that was broadsided by a powerboat police said was operated by a suspected intoxicated boater.

Two suspected DWI-related deaths in two days. But there have been other DWI-related incidents making news (and goodness knows how many others that didn't), too.

On Tuesday, a State Supreme Court justice sent a former Hamptons real estate agent back to jail after she admitted having two glasses of wine in violation of probation for driving while intoxicated. Charlotte DePersia had crossed a centerline and crashed into an oncoming car in 2010. Two women were injured; one of them was pregnant.

Also Tuesday, a Selden woman was arrested on a drunken-driving charge after, police said, she crashed into the back of a Suffolk police car driven by an Anti-Aggressive Driving Task Force officer in Centereach.

The suspect, Laurie Phillips, was charged with driving while intoxicated with a conviction in the past 10 years, police said. She also was ticketed, accused of speeding and talking on her cellphone. The officer suffered minor injuries.

What's frustrating is that New York State, through the efforts of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other advocates, has worked hard over the past several years to curb drunken driving.

Among the efforts, also championed by state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr.: a lower legal alcohol limit, along with tougher charges and tougher penalties for convicted drunken drivers. But maybe -- especially for this upcoming July Fourth holiday, which falls on a Wednesday, thus providing two weekend opportunities for celebrating -- a plea can make a difference.

Don't take it from me, though. Instead, consider what Jennifer Flynn of Lido Beach had to say just two days after her daughter, Katie, and limousine driver Stanley Rabinowitz were killed by a drunken driver headed the wrong way on the Meadowbrook Parkway during the 2005 Fourth of July weekend.

"As I crawled out of the car, the only thing that was left of Kate was her head," Flynn told stunned reporters at a hospital news conference. "And I took her, just that, and sat on the side of the Meadowbrook and watched the horrendousness going on around me.

"I sat there for about an hour with her as they cut my entire family out of this crushed tin can," she said. "It was brutal, and I hope that it is as brutal for you all as it was for me.

"I want everybody to know that," she said. "I want everyone to feel our pain and know our sadness. Drunk driving did this to us."

The driver, Martin Heidgen, was convicted of murder by depraved indifference in 2006 in one of the first DWI-related murder convictions in the United States.

In 2010, Katie's parents recorded a spot -- "Drinking and Driving Shattered Our Lives" -- for a state anti-DWI campaign. It includes the video of the oncoming car and crash used at the trial.

The message is as frank as it is clear: Don't drink and drive.

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