SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Tears flowed Monday as the family of Burton Greene, a Scarsdale man killed by a drunk driver in 1997, talked about their loss and their support for U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) in her call for tough national standards and minimum penalties for drunk driving repeat offenders, including the use of ignition interlock devices.
"Because of a repeat offender, my children know their grandpa only through photos, stories about him, and visits to the cemetery," said Lisa Heller, Greene's daughter. "Because of a repeat offender, my father was robbed of the pleasure of knowing and loving my girls."
Heller's comments came at a press conference at the Scarsdale Police Station hosted by Scarsdale Police Chief John Brogan and also attended by Lowey, Westchester County District Attorney's Office Mount Vernon bureau chief Patrick Macarchuk and Carole Sears, president of the Westchester County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Following Burton Greene's death, Lowey successfully led the effort to establish a national .08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) standard, but she wants Congress to go further. The Burton Greene Higher-Risk Impaired Driver Act, which Lowey last introduced in 2003, included both incentives and sanctions to get states to enact laws targeting high-risk drivers convicted of repeat offenses or a BAC above .15, as well as minimum standards for penalties. The last major transportation reauthorization, in 2005, included incentives for states to enact higher-risk driver laws and increased penalties for repeat offenders.
In the upcoming transportation reauthorization, Lowey is working to preserve programs and penalties aimed at higher-risk drivers, including the use of ignition interlock devices to reduce repeat offenses by preventing impaired drivers from operating their vehicles. The American Beverage Institute wants to remove existing incentives for states to enact ignition interlock laws, and opposes Lowey's effort to require states to enact ignition interlock laws, Lowey said.
Carol Greene recounted the events of the night she lost her husband in 1997. "It can happen to anyone," Greene said. "My husband and I were returning home from an early-evening dinner and a movie when a repeat drunk driver ... made the deadly choice to drink and drive again. His selfish actions killed my wonderful husband and left me with injuries and lifelong memories of my loss, my long hospital stay and lengthy, horrendous physical and occupational therapy sessions. The drunk driver, in an instant, changed my life forever."
Bonnie Ackerman, Greene's daughter, also has vivid memories of that night. “Since 1997, we have missed my dad at countless events, from casual family gatherings to milestones like my sister's wedding and the births of three of his four grandchildren,” Ackerman said.
Sears, of MADD, recounted the events of the night she lost her husband and nearly her own life to a repeat drunk driver.
"Ignition interlocks work,” Sears said. “The fact is that every driver in every state should be protected from drunk drivers.”