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January 26, 2010 - DWI Cases Under 'Leandra's Law' Prompt Tough Stance

The arrests of five women charged with drunken driving while having children in their vehicles -- within weeks after a tougher law against such offenses took effect -- have prompted Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III to order aggressive prosecution of such cases.

"Adults can recklessly choose to get behind the wheel drunk, but their children can make no such choice about getting in the car with Mommy," Sedita said Monday in announcing the tougher policy.

New York's Child Passenger Protection Act, known as Leandra's Law, took effect Dec. 18. All motorists accused of violating it will be vigorously prosecuted, Sedita said.

Locally, the first five cases all involved female drivers. Three of the women already have been indicted, with one facing sentencing on a guilty plea for aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child. The other two women remain under investigation.

As a first-time offense, drunken driving has generally been prosecuted as a misdemeanor, but with enactment of Leandra's Law, a first-time offense involving children younger than 16 is a felony. The penalties range from probation and fines to imprisonment for up to four years, or for up to 25 years if a child is killed or injured.

The law is named for Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old killed in a New York City crash last October. Kelley A. Omel, Sedita's top DWI prosecutor, said cases involving Leandra's Law are also being referred to a central state registry of child abuse and maltreatment investigations, which could lead to further prosecutions of motorists.

Jolie Nourse, 43, of Utica, faces an April 16 sentencing on her guilty plea Friday to aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle after her arrest Dec. 25 at the Williamsville toll barrier on the Thruway.

Sedita and Omel said Nourse, who had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.19 percent, had stopped at the barrier and asked for directions to Rochester, not realizing she had missed the exit by about 40 miles while driving from Utica. She had her four children, ages 15 months to 5 years, with her.

Michelle Crawford, 24, of Batavia, is awaiting trial after refusing to submit to blood-alcohol testing when stopped on Clinton Street in the Town of Marilla at about 2 p. m. Thursday with her three children, ages 1, 3 and 4.

Tamara Sloan, 35, of the Town of Tonawanda, was arrested at North Bailey Avenue and Sheridan Drive in Amherst at about 6 p. m. Friday after crashing at the intersection with her two children, ages 2 and 7. There were no injuries in the crash.

Both Crawford and Sloan were charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child and with child endangerment.

Effective Aug. 15 under the law, all judges in the state will order drivers convicted of a misdemeanor or felony DWI to have an ignition interlock for at least six months in any vehicle they own or operate, in addition to any other sentence they may receive.

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