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3 years after son's death, father pushes for mandatory drug, alcohol tests

Philip Walker at his son James Walker's grave

Philip Walker at his son James Walker's grave at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn on Oct. 20, 2014. Walker is pushing for mandatory drug and alcohol tests in fatal accidents after his son was hit by a car on Oct. 16, 2011, and later died. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Medical student James Walker died three years ago Tuesday after being struck by a car while crossing a road in Brightwaters, and his father continues to fight for a state law that would mandate drug and alcohol testing for drivers involved in accidents where another person is killed.

"I come here three or four times a week," Philip Walker said Monday as he stood by his son's grave at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn. "At first, I came here every day of the week. I sometimes come at 10 a.m. and leave at 2 p.m. I'll never forget. And it never gets easier."

New Jersey, Connecticut and 15 other states require a blood-alcohol test for drivers involved in vehicular accidents where another person is killed, according to figures compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

New York has no such law, but field sobriety tests can be done if a police officer suspects a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Walker, 56, said he hopes mandatory testing will be implemented; however, several bills pending in Albany would make testing only more likely, not mandatory.

Testing for drugs would be much more complicated and expensive than testing for alcohol, experts say. Federal regulations require that states have laws setting the blood-alcohol level for intoxication at a minimum of .08 percent -- meaning .08 percent of your blood is alcohol, as measured when you breathe into a testing device.

There is no agreed-upon level for the numerous drugs and substances that can also cause impairment, and tests for those substances would require taking a blood or urine sample and performing a laboratory analysis, the expert says.

"We may have lagged in implementing drugged driving laws because of the costs. Testing would be fairly expensive compared to alcohol testing," said David J. Hanson, a retired SUNY Potsdam sociology professor who has studied alcohol issues for 40 years.

James Walker was 26 and just seven months shy of graduation from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury when he was struck and fatally injured while crossing the intersection of Union Boulevard and Windsor Street about 9:05 p.m. on Oct. 16, 2011. He died five days later at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

He was the only son of Maureen and Philip Walker, who live in Nassau County, but do not want to give their hometown because Philip is a retired New York City correction officer.

Walker obtained police records of the accident last year that show police found a "pill in small plastic envelope 'Adderall' " and "prescription Box Albuterol" in a storage compartment of the car driven by Danielle Sireci, now 25, of West Islip.

Sireci said that police never said anything to her about finding prescription drugs, and she denied she was on medication.

"That is not a fact. The police have never brought it up to me. And I totally agree there should be drug and alcohol testing because I was sober, and it would prove 100 percent I was," she said earlier this month.

The DMV conducted a hearing on the accident on April 4, 2013, and an administrative law judge, Todd Schall, ruled on July 18, 2013, there was nothing to indicate Sireci had contributed to the accident. He ruled that she could keep her license, but he noted that police had been notified of the hearing and had not sent a representative.

"There is no indication in this case record . . . that drugs or alcohol were discovered at the scene or in respondent's vehicle, nor that the consumption of drugs or alcohol was suspected on the part of either [Sireci or James Walker]," Schall wrote in a decision dated April 4, 2013.

Suffolk police issued a statement saying they missed the hearing because the police officer was on vacation, and the department has "taken steps to ensure that future miscommunications do not take place."

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) sponsored a bill that passed the Senate last year that would remove the requirement that there be signs of impairment before police can order a test of the driver. A similar, but not identical, bill passed the Assembly.

"I would love to see legislation that mandates testing, but there are fundamental issues of due process," Flanagan said. "This is a very interim, positive step."

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has criticized the current drug-testing law because illegal substances are defined only as those listed in the Public Health Law, which includes Adderall, but not such intoxicants as bath salts, some synthetic marijuana or the aerosol spray Dust-Off.

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