Denna Cohen, a Coram mother whose daughter was killed by a drunken driver 20 years ago, calls Lenny Rosado her hero. So does Maureen McCormick, chief of the Nassau County district attorney's vehicular crimes bureau.
But Rosado said Thursday his work on behalf of the state's new Child Passenger Protection Act - also called Leandra's Law, after his only child, who was killed in an alleged drunken driving crash - was just a matter of listening to his daughter's voice, which kept repeating itself in his head.
"She didn't like bullies," Rosado, 45, a security manager for a Manhattan hotel, said of his daughter, who was 11. "And anyone who drinks and drives is a bully."
Rosado helped introduce the law, effective Thursday, to the public at Farmingdale State College, along with its co-authors, Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) and Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach). (Click here to read full text of the law.)
In October, Leandra was a passenger in a van with several friends when the vehicle flipped on the Henry Hudson Parkway. Police say the driver - the mother of one of its passengers - Carmen Huertas was drunk.
Rosado said Leandra's Law, which makes it a felony for individuals to drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs with children under the age of 16 in their vehicles, is designed to punish irresponsible adults. "I have a message for people who think they can drink and drive," an emotional Rosado said. "The party's over."
Fushcillo said the law reinforces a message Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been giving for decades.
Weisenberg agreed: "We know this is the time of the year that people like to celebrate, and they like to celebrate with a drink," he said. "They need to be aware of the consequences. . . . You can give your family a gift this holiday season, and it's, don't drink and drive."
Fuschillo said that message should be constant, "365 days a year."
Rosado pushed for legislation after the death of his daughter, he said, even though a part of him died with her. He said he met with Fuschillo and other legislators because his daughter "would have wanted him to fight."
Cohen, president of MADD Long Island, said she knows exactly how Rosado feels. "Our children were not lost to us," she said. "They were stolen from us, taken away by someone who didn't care."