Martin Heidgen of Valley Stream, N.Y., didn’t wake up one day and decide to kill someone with his car.
But when he drove drunk on July 2, 2005, he crashed his Chevrolet pickup into a limousine at highway speeds, killing 59-year-old Stan Rabinowitz and 7-year-old Katie Flynn.
“When you drive under the influence, you are playing vehicular roulette,” said Maureen McCormick, chief of vehicular crimes at the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.
McCormick, who prosecuted the case against Heidgen, was the first of many speakers at Tuesday’s AAA to Generation Z teen driver safety summit on Long Island. With more than 140 students from nine local schools in attendance, McCormick and others shared stories of how a split second of drunk, drugged, drowsy or distracted driving can change lives forever.
Speakers included Karen Torres, whose father was killed by a distracted driver behind the wheel of a cement truck on Long Island’s Sunrise Highway in 2006. She shared her heartbreaking tale of what it was like to lose a family member too soon and pleaded for students to ignore their phones while they drive.
Attendees also heard from a Long Island resident who spent two months in jail after she ran a red light and caused a crash that severely injured a Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office investigator.
“Every time I blow into that breathalyzer (in my car), it’s a reminder of that bad decision I made,” the 22-year-old said.
The students, who came from as far as Wallkill, N.Y., could try a distracted driving simulator, and some, including Commack High School students Emma Baker and Allison Smith, even gave presentations of their own.
At the end of the day, the students were asked to spread what they learned to other students at their respective schools.
“Everyone in this room plays a part,” said Lloyd Albert, senior vice president of government affairs for AAA Northeast.
To learn about AAA safety programs and outreach in your area, click here.