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Rice asks state for ways to prevent wrong-way driving

This is the vehicle the was driven by

This is the vehicle the was driven by Katelyn O'Connell, 22, of Westbury, who police say was driving drunk and the wrong-way on the LIE eastbound near Exit 35 before crashing into another vehicle at 5:03 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2010. Credit: Jim Staubitser

A week after back-to-back crashes in which two accused drunken drivers hit other vehicles after speeding in the wrong direction down local highways, Nassau's top prosecutor has asked the state Department of Transportation to look at ways to prevent such collisions in the future.

In a letter released Monday, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said the state should consider additional warning methods to alert drivers going the wrong way on highways.

"We need to come up with ways to bring to the attention of drunk drivers that they are going the wrong way," Rice said in an interview Monday.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation could not be reached after the letter, which was addressed to acting state DOT Commissioner Stanley Gee, was sent late Monday afternoon.

The letter came a week after two wrong-way crashes within 24 hours made headlines on Long Island.

On Nov. 15, Michael Bowen, 50, of Brooklyn, got on the Northern State Parkway going westbound in the eastbound lanes, crashing into and killing veteran New York City Police Officer Andre Menzies, 35, of North Babylon, authorities said. The following day, Katelyn A. O'Connell, 22, of Westbury, got on the Long Island Expressway driving drunk and against traffic, and crashed into an oncoming car, police said. In that case, neither driver was seriously injured, police said.

Rice said in her letter that those crashes, and others like them, should be a call to action.

"While there exists no doubt that intoxication and impairment play the most significant role in many of these tragic crashes, such a fact does not eliminate the responsibility of our state's transportation authority to thoroughly study and propose ways to improve the safety on state roadways," she said.

In the letter, Rice suggested reflective red surfaces on the backs of roadway signs, fog line reflectors that show red to drivers traveling the wrong way and both high and low "Wrong Way" signs to address the tendency of drunk drivers to look down while they drive.

A DOT spokeswoman has said that her agency has already taken several concrete steps to avoid wrong-way accidents, including redesigning some parkway entrances and exits, painting arrows on highway on- and off-ramps and fitting ramps with reflectors that produce white light if drivers are headed the correct way and red light if they're not.

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