As fatal crashes and drug abuse have transformed into more of an epidemic than a series of accidents, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice has made it her mission to educate teens on the consequences of their actions.
At a Monday evening forum for graduating seniors, Assistant District Attorney Jim Cole, who handles cases involving various degrees of vehicular homicide, drew from cases he's prosecuted as well as statistics on the danger of wreckless driving and driving under the influence.
"It's very important given their age," said Cole during the program in the Wantagh High School Auditorum called "Choices & Consequences. "It wasn't too long ago that I was a high school senior. I understand the mentality and I understand the pressure of wanting to fit in, but there's an importance to being safe."
A main topic at Tuesday's seminar was that of texting and driving, which is now illegal in New York State. Cole showed the students graphic slides of the damages done in texting and driving crashes to portray just how dangerous it can be.
"I understand how many of you love to text, everywhere and anywhere, but you don't have to text while driving," Cole said to the students. "I know that every single one of you haven't sent a text while driving that you had to send right then and there. Nobody has an excuse for it. In that split second you look down, that's when the crash happens."
The portion of the seminar that seemed to impact students most was when Cole shared details, photos, video footage and the reprecussions of three cases that occurred through the last few years where young people's careless driving changed their lives forever.
One particular case Cole told the Wantagh teens about was that of Martin Heidgen, a wrongway drunk driver whose actions after a night of heavy drinking in 2005 led to a head-on collision that stole the lives of 7-year old Katie Flynn and 59-year old Stanley Rabinowitz. Heidgen was convicted on two counts of murder and is serving an 18-year prison term.
"This was avoidable," Cole explained to the crowd. "It was a decision to get behind the wheel and drive home. That one decision is all that separates him from all of you. He never woke up thinking he'd kill a 7-year old girl and 59-year old man."
Nassau County Police Officer John Brigandi performed a skit with Wantagh students to give them a better idea of what happens in the case of a drunk driving arrest. Brigandi performed a field sobriety test on a student wearing altered goggles, and though most of the crowd found it comical, it gave them a good lesson in just how much alcohol can impair your ability to do normal tasks.
Brigandi, who has a 17-year old daughter, left the students with one final thought before the enter adulthood, outside the halls of Wantagh High School.
"The reality is that in a week or so, you're going to be graduating into the read world," he said. "You don't go to the dean's office when you mess up. You come to my office. My office can change your life forever. I'm not up here to tell you not to drink, but you need to have a plan in place. Call your parents, call a friend, have a plan."