Parents of victims, advocates and law enforcement are reminding everyone to be responsible for themselves and for everyone else out on the roads. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Staff

Timothy Carpenter had dreams of becoming a high school biology teacher, to change lives and influence a generation of young students. 

But the 22-year-old Stony Brook University senior's dreams came to a halt on March 19, just months before his graduation, when a habitual drug addict, driving high on fentanyl, crossed a double yellow line on Middle Country Road in Centereach and crashed into the sedan driven by Timothy's uncle, Stacy Carpenter.

Timothy Carpenter, the front-seat passenger, was killed, while his uncle suffered traumatic injuries that left him hospitalized for weeks. 

"I can't fully describe the agony it is to lose a child, let alone an only child," Andrea Carpenter, Timothy's mother, said Tuesday at the State Police barracks in Farmingdale, where she joined law enforcement and the families of others lost to drunk and drugged driving in calling for lawmakers to pass legislation to improve road safety.

The other driver, Christopher Guzman of Farmingville, was arrested but released without bail and died of a drug overdose only months after the crash, leaving the Carpenter family without justice for Timothy.

"Part of our heart and soul are missing," his mother said. "It's the physical pain as well as emotional. We wake up with this pain, stumble through the day and then go to bed with this pain."

Members of the media joined the Carpenter family, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney and others as they viewed the two vehicles at the barracks involved in the crash: Guzman's Chevrolet Silverado and Carpenter's Ford Escape, both of which sustained significant damage.

Tierney said state laws allowing prosecutors to bring charges against drugged drivers have dangerous loopholes that endanger the public.

Data from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research shows that fatal crashes involving drugs have been on the rise across Long Island and New York State.

For example, in Suffolk, police-reported fatal crashes involving drugs increased by 136% between 2017 and 2022 and by 30% in Nassau County, the data shows. Statewide, the number of drug-involved fatal crashes increased by nearly 40% during that period, the data shows.

The Deadly Driving bill, which has been introduced in both legislative chambers, would allow police to charge motorists who are under the influence of any illegal substance.

Current legislation prevents law enforcement from charging motorists who are high on substances that are not on the controlled substance list — including new designer synthetic narcotics — or in instances when the driver refuses a blood test and police cannot identify the specific drug impairing them at the time, Tierney said. 

"If a driver is observably drunk and refuses to take a test, that driver doesn't get released. The driver gets charged with driving while intoxicated based on the observations of the police," Tierney said. "Why should it be different for drugged drivers? It should not. Impaired is impaired. Dangerous is dangerous. And our legislature needs to act."

Advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement plan to travel to Albany on Jan. 9 to lobby for the legislative change, which would also suspend the driver's licenses, pending prosecution, of motorists charged with driving while impaired by drugs — the same as alcohol.

"The loophole in the drugged driving law needs to be closed," said Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly at the event. "We are tying the hands of our law enforcement partners behind their backs."

Advocates warn that those numbers must come down.

"New York State is in crisis," said Alisa McMorris, whose son, Andrew, was killed by a drunken driver in 2018 while walking with his Boy Scout troop. "The amount of preventable carnage on our roads is nauseating."

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