Just over a week after state officials made it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the car, two Long Island men this weekend became the first local residents charged with the offense.
Mario Rojano, 18, of Hampton Bays, was arrested Saturday night after police said his Subaru drifted across the median on Sunrise Highway in Southampton while his 3-year-old son was in the car. Rojano's blood alcohol content was measured at .20, more than twice the legal limit of .08 percent, police said.
The second man, Barton Jenks, 59, of West Islip, was pulled over Sunday near Exit 31 on the Southern State Parkway near Massapequa Park after state troopers said he committed several traffic infractions with his daughter, 10, in the car. Troopers said they measured his blood alcohol level at .11 percent.
Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice had lobbied to pass Leandra's Law, named after 11-year-old Leandra Rosado of Manhattan who was killed in a crash in October in which her friend's mother was charged with drunken driving.
"This shows how alarmingly prevalent this problem is," said Rice, noting that Nassau's police and prosecutors have found children in cars during about 200 drunken driving arrests over the last four years.
A Rice spokesman said there have been fewer than six arrests in the state under the new law since it was passed Dec. 18.
Leandra's Law makes it a felony for anyone to drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs with children 15 years old or younger in the car. That had been a misdemeanor that could be reduced to a traffic violation.
"It's bad enough to drive drunk in first place, putting everyone else on the road in danger," Cohen said. "But to put a child you are charged with caring for in a lethal situation? How dare you."
Rojano pleaded not guilty to the charges against him Sunday, and was held on $7,500 bail, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk district attorney's office said. He is represented by the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society.
Jenks also pleaded not guilty and was released to the Nassau Probation Department. His lawyer, Mitchell Hirsh of Hempstead, could not be reached for comment Monday. Reached at his home Monday night, Jenks declined to comment.
Leandra's Law also marks the first time that New York State has mandated ignition interlock breath test devices for all misdemeanor and felony DWI offenders.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), a sponsor of Leandra's Law, said while DWI rates typically rise during the holidays, the problem is year-round. Referring to the crash that killed Rosado, and to the one that killed eight people this summer when Diane Schuler, of West Babylon, drove drunk in the wrong direction on the Taconic State Parkway with her family in the car, Fuschillo said: "Those were no holidays."
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