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Suffolk County leads state in Leandra's Law DWI arrests, records show

Richard Mallow, the New York State Executive Director

Richard Mallow, the New York State Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stands inside their headquarters in Huntington Station with a sign advocating for Leandra's Law on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk has made more arrests than any other county in the state under Leandra's Law, enacted in 2009 to increase penalties for motorists who drive with kids while under the influence, state records show.

Since the law's inception, Suffolk has made 384 arrests for "aggravated DWI with a child," according to data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Nassau had 185 arrests during the period -- the fifth-highest number of any county in the state. Queens County, which had more Leandra's Law arrests than any other New York City borough, was eighth in the state with 153. There were 4,277 arrests statewide between 2009 and 2014, with Suffolk ranking first in each of those years.

Law enforcement officials and motor safety activists attributed Suffolk's arrest numbers to factors including its large number of roadways, drivers and vehicles. They also cited a 30-year-old special police team that has snared Leandra's Law violators as part of a broader anti-DWI campaign.

"Suffolk had their team in place. They were right on top of it," said Richard Mallow, New York State executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a nonprofit that advocates for stricter DWI laws.

The Nassau district attorney's office said it has won convictions of 144 drivers under Leandra's Law. More than 40 cases are still pending.

"Drivers should know that if they risk a child passenger's life by driving drunk or impaired by drugs, Nassau County has no sympathy for them," acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said in an email.

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Leandra's Law, which made it a felony to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a passenger under 16 years old, was spurred by the Oct. 11, 2009, death of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado of Manhattan, in a car accident on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Leandra was on her way to a slumber party in a car driven by Carmen Huertas, the mother of one of Leandra's friends. Huertas, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.132 percent (the threshold for drunken driving in New York is 0.08 percent), pleaded guilty to 16 counts, including drunken driving and second-degree manslaughter.

Leandra's father, Lenny Rosado, lobbied state legislators for the bill's passage. Two Long Island lawmakers -- former state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) and former Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) -- were among the lead sponsors of the legislation.

"This bill is a reminder that too many children have been injured or killed because those who were responsible for protecting them sometimes ignore that commitment," Weisenberg said after the bill was signed.

Suffolk targets roads

In terms of total arrests under the law, Suffolk is followed by Erie, Monroe, Westchester and Nassau counties.

Last year Suffolk had 67 arrests and Nassau had 30. Queens County had 29; Bronx, 25; Kings, 24; New York, 10; and Richmond, 9.

The figures are through Dec. 18, with a final tally expected next month.

Suffolk Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon, a police spokesman, said the nine-member DWI unit uses data from each precinct to target local roads and areas of the Long Island Expressway with high numbers of traffic accidents or that generate numerous complaints about aggressive driving.

"Part of it has to do with the raw numbers -- Suffolk has more registered drivers, registered vehicles, more roadways, but a lot of it has to do with proactive efforts to tackle DWI," Fallon said.

Drug-related arrests

In 2012, the Suffolk County district attorney's office established a Vehicular Crime Bureau, in part to handle the growing number of Leandra's Law prosecutions, District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

In early 2014, Spota's office conducted an informal study of about 180 Leandra's Law-related cases to determine the levels of driver impairment from alcohol, opiates and other substances, and when offenses occurred.

The study found that nearly a quarter of the arrests the office prosecuted were drug-related, with most of them involving the prescription anti-anxiety medication Xanax, marijuana and cocaine.

The study covered the seven-day week and found that offenders were most likely to be caught between 2 and 6 p.m. On weekdays, parents often are transporting children from school or to after-school activities during those hours.

Sundays accounted for the largest volume of arrests, with more than half occurring while drivers were leaving parties, barbecues or other social gatherings, the study found.

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