"There's a vacancy over at the East Meadow jail" for...

"There's a vacancy over at the East Meadow jail" for drunken drivers, said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The tragedy caused by a drunken driving crash doesn't end on impact.

The physical and emotional scars remain, years later, for victims and families who lost loved ones in motor vehicle crashes that authorities call avoidable and preventable. 

Jennifer Flynn's daughter Katie would have marked her 21st birthday last month. The 7-year-old flower girl was killed in 2005 when a drunken driver hit the limo she rode in on her way home from her aunt's wedding. The driver of the vehicle that crashed into the limo had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. 

Katie was decapitated in the head-on collision on the Meadowbrook Parkway. The limo driver, Stanley Rabinowitz, 59, of Farmingdale, also was killed.

Katie's mother held her eldest daughter's head and watched as the rest of her family was pulled out of the limo with numerous injuries — broken bones, lacerated organs, bruised discs. They  were taken to three hospitals. 

"I'm less without Kate and so is my entire family," said Jennifer Flynn, 49, of Lido Beach, at a Friday news conference in Long Beach. "She was murdered; she was stolen. She was taken far, far, far too young."

The drunken driver, Martin Heidgen, is serving 19 years to life in state prison in a case that included the rare charge of depraved-indifference murder.

Flynn, who said her family's tragedy was often sanitized in media reports, stood Friday with her uncle Michael Tangney, the acting Long Beach city manager, as well as Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.

All pleaded with drivers to plan ahead over the New Year's holiday weekend to avoid any possibility of drunken driving. They begged residents to call a taxi, ride-sharing service or find another way of getting home without getting behind the wheel impaired.

“In this day and age, it’s inexcusable,” Singas said at an earlier similar news conference at the county police's location in Bellmore. “This crime is entirely preventable, so let’s prevent it.” 

The news conferences were held this week nearly a year after Nassau police officer Willard Gomes was seriously injured by a suspected drunken driver while working a DWI patrol on New Year’s Day. He has not yet returned to work and needs at least one additional operation, police said. 

The State Police, as well as Nassau, Suffolk and Long Beach police departments and other agencies on Long Island will be increasing their enforcement — possibly with checkpoints — through the holiday.

Singas' office is giving $5,000 to cover extra patrols in Long Beach. Authorities said their forces would be cracking down on drunken driving through next week and prosecutors would stand tough on cases.

“There’s a vacancy over at the East Meadow jail” for drunken drivers, Ryder said in Bellmore. 

In Suffolk County, Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said in a phone interview that he worked closely with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and read the names of victims at candlelight vigils.

"A lot of the names resonate with me," he said. "I remember them vividly."

The State Police on Long Island, as well as throughout New York, are participating in the national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” crackdown, according to a news release. 

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