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Schuler case referenced as Senate passes tighter DWI bill

ALBANY - The State Senate gave final passage Wednesday to a bill making it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car.

The legislation also requires all motorists convicted of DWI to install an ignition locking device that prevents a vehicle's engine from starting if alcohol is detected on the breath. The device would be installed for a minimum of six months and up to almost 17 years.

Gov. David A. Paterson was expected to sign the bill into law later Wednesday. It contains some of the toughest penalties for DWI in the nation.

The 20-minute debate on the Senate floor was emotional at times, with references to July's wrong-way crash on the Taconic State Parkway.

Police blame Diane Schuler, 36, of West Babylon for her own death and that of four children and three other adults. Police say she was drunk, with a blood alcohol level of .19, and high on marijuana at the time.

"We have to act when parents don't want to protect their children," said Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), who represents Floral Park where three of the children killed in the Taconic crash lived.

Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), the bill's co-sponsor, added, "seven people were murdered on the Taconic . . . this has been the bloodiest summer of my life."

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, mirroring Tuesday's passage in the Assembly.

Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island) surprised some of her colleagues with the disclosure that her parents were alcoholics. "My mother was in the grip of a disease. She put us at risk day after day, sometimes without knowing it," Savino said. "Other family members and neighbors ignored what they saw."

The felony charge, punishable by up to 4 years in prison, applies to motorists with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 and accompanied by a child 15 and under. The charge goes into effect in 30 days.

The ignition-locking requirement begins in 270 days.

>> Click here for the latest photos of the Schuler, Bastardi and Hance families

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