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Rensselaer County holds DWI memorial ceremony as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights week

Rensselaer County held its annual DWI Memorial Ceremony Tuesday in Troy.

Year after year, people gather at the DWI Victims Memorial across the street from Prospect Park to honor loved ones, promote awareness, and remind others about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Rensselaer County Sheriff's Deputy Phil Milano recited the names of DWI victims.

Allison Bodnar, first on the list of names, was 16 when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver on April 18, 1998. Her father, Dean Bodnar, tells WAMC the Memorial is near the scene.

"It was late on a Saturday night," said Bodnar. "Just before midnight. My daughter was standing about 50 feet away, from 60 feet away from Congress Street with a group of her friends. And she got hit by a car. And she died the next day in Albany Med."

Bodnar says Allison's death galvanized community interest, resulting in construction of the DWI Victims Memorial.

Democratic District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly spoke about a new worry.

"And last year I mentioned my concern about the legalization of marijuana and its effect on the safety of our roadways," said Donnelly. "While I cannot comment specifically about any pending cases, I can tell you that within a month last year of the legalization of marijuana in New York state, we had a devastating motor vehicle accident right here in Rensselaer County, which left a victim with life altering injuries. In that case, the driver of the car is alleged to have been high on marijuana at the time he was operating that car. So I bring this up because again, one of the things I like to get out of today is awareness. And marijuana as an intoxicant, is much more difficult to detect than alcohol in the blood. It definitely complicates prosecution. But more importantly, it's the fact that many drivers, particularly young people, do not comprehend that driving while high is just like driving while intoxicated. You cannot respond as quickly. You cannot anticipate what other drivers may do."

"Sorry, that we, you know, have to have this ceremony. This is one of these ceremonies we would not wish to have ever," said Republican Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin. "But it's very important that we do because as Mary Pat said, as the district attorney said, it's so important to raise awareness, and to try to prevent any further tragedies. And there is still a long way to go."

McLaughlin says New York's legalization of marijuana makes no sense. He thinks it will lead to an increase in motor vehicle accidents.

"It's going to make the job of law enforcement much more difficult," McLaughlin said. 'And unfortunately, it's going to expose more families to this tragedy. So we stand in solidarity with our district attorney in opposing this wrongheaded policy by the state legislature."

The ceremony concluded with a laying of flowers at the memorial.

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Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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