Group aims to help victims of drunken drivers


Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing has a com­pre­hens­ive le­gis­lat­ive agenda.

MADD has lob­bied for the re­duc­tion of the leg­al threshold for impair­ment to .08, stiffer sen­tences for those con­victed of drunk­en driv­ing and man­dat­ory breath-al­co­hol de­tect­ing ig­ni­tion devices on the vehicles of con­victed drunk­en drivers. The 23-year-old group also en­dorses ran­dom DUI check­points and high­er taxes on beer, while op­pos­ing a re­duc­tion of the leg­al drink­ing age.

But le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion isn’t the main thing that MADD does.

“Prob­ably the best-kept secret of MADD is our vic­tim ser­vices,” said Con­nie Lewis, a vic­tim ad­voc­ate for MADD of South­east­ern Pennsylvania.

Lewis was the guest speak­er at the 7th Po­lice Dis­trict Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil meet­ing on March 15.

“People hear about our le­gis­lat­ive ad­vocacy. (But) really, the root of MADD is vic­tim ser­vices.”

The group seeks to help those in­jured by drunk­en drivers, the fam­il­ies of those killed and in­jured and those who suf­fer eco­nom­ic and emo­tion­al hard­ship as a res­ult of drunk­en drivers.

Vo­lun­teers vis­it hos­pit­als, at­tend fu­ner­als, ac­com­pany vic­tims and their fam­il­ies to court, help vic­tims ob­tain crash re­ports and oth­er leg­al doc­u­ments, of­fer coun­sel­ing re­fer­rals, or­gan­ize sup­port groups and help the in­jured and their fam­il­ies get crime vic­tim com­pens­a­tion.

All ser­vices are provided for free.

Spring is a very im­port­ant time of year for MADD, Lewis said, be­cause April, May and June are the months with the greatest num­ber of drink­ing-re­lated teen deaths.

In ad­di­tion, MADD has a far-reach­ing pub­lic edu­ca­tion pro­gram about the dangers of drunk­en driv­ing. More than two dec­ades after its found­ing, MADD still finds that many people don’t un­der­stand the grav­ity of the de­cision to get be­hind the wheel while im­paired, Lewis said.

Many folks still con­sider drunk­en-driv­ing crashes “ac­ci­dents,” as if there was no in­tent in­volved, she ex­plained. But that’s a mis­con­cep­tion.

“You know that when you’re drink­ing and driv­ing, you have a big (po­ten­tial) weapon in your hands,” Lewis said.

MADD re­mains very much a policy-driv­en ef­fort, too. The top pri­or­ity of its “Cam­paign to Elim­in­ate Drunk Driv­ing” is high-vis­ib­il­ity law en­force­ment. The be­lief is that if more po­lice are on the street, more people will be re­luct­ant to drive drunk.

The group still fa­vors ex­pand­ing auto ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock­ing devices and oth­er ad­vanced vehicle tech­no­logy to pre­vent im­paired driv­ing.

“The tech­no­logy is there,” Lewis said.

MADD con­tin­ues to or­gan­ize grass­roots sup­port for its causes.

However, the group no longer seeks to re­duce the blood-al­co­hol con­tent threshold. In Pennsylvania, the num­ber was .10 per­cent a dec­ade ago. In 2000, Con­gress passed the .08 per­cent level. With­in five years, every state had ad­op­ted the lower threshold.

Cur­rently, groups in some states are call­ing for an­oth­er re­duc­tion to .05 per­cent, Lewis said, but MADD is sat­is­fied with the .08 level.

In un­re­lated busi­ness, Capt. Joe Zaffino, com­mand­er of the dis­trict, warned mo­tor­ists nev­er to leave their vehicles run­ning when parked and un­at­ten­ded. It could res­ult in a tick­et.

The un­der­ly­ing prob­lem is auto theft, Zaffino said. There were 13 auto thefts re­por­ted in the dis­trict dur­ing a re­cently con­cluded 28-day peri­od, mark­ing an 80 per­cent in­crease in cases, Zaffino said. Yet, among the thefts, sev­en oc­curred when the car own­er left the vehicle un­at­ten­ded and run­ning.

On March 15, one area mo­tor­ist learned the hard way that there’s an or­din­ance against that.

Zaffino spot­ted the car out­side a con­veni­ence store. He waited for the own­er to ar­rive and wrote him a tick­et for $31. In 30 years as a po­lice of­ficer, he had nev­er writ­ten a run­ning-car tick­et.

“Now it’s time to crack down on those folks,” he said. “If they can play a part in help­ing me lower these (auto theft) num­bers, I want to im­press it upon them.”

Com­munity re­la­tions of­ficer Rich Si­mon noted that un­at­ten­ded cars, when the en­gine is left run­ning, can present a safety haz­ard. If the vehicle slips in­to gear, it could strike an­oth­er car, a build­ing or a per­son.

An­oth­er frus­trat­ing crime trend in the dis­trict is the re­peated burg­lary of a pub­lic stor­age busi­ness on By­berry Road, west of Evans Street.

Last month, burg­lars broke in­to 28 stor­age units, Zaffino said. The busi­ness has been the tar­get of sim­il­ar raids in the past. For years, the cap­tain said, he’s been try­ing to con­vince the pro­pri­et­or to in­vest in sur­veil­lance cam­er­as to se­cure the site.

“They tell me it’s not cost-ef­fect­ive. I call cor­por­ate and cor­por­ate doesn’t get back to me,” he said.

Non­ethe­less, burg­lar­ies as a whole are on the de­cline, Zaffino said. When a burg­lary oc­curs now, of­ficers go to the neigh­bor­hood and dis­trib­ute in­form­a­tion­al fli­ers. There were 16 burg­lar­ies in the re­cently con­cluded 28-day peri­od, com­pared to 40 in the pre­vi­ous peri­od.

Zaffino also aler­ted res­id­ents about thieves who have been steal­ing air con­di­tion­ing units from out­side homes. The units con­tain valu­able cop­per com­pon­ents. Wit­nesses have seen a sus­pi­cious white pickup truck in the vi­cin­ity of the crimes.

Sgt. James Len­non and Of­ficers Mi­chael Pal­inkas and Bri­an Fuss were named Of­ficers of the Month for cap­tur­ing the sus­pec­ted armed rob­ber of a Game Fixx store at 12006 Bustleton Ave.

The sus­pect al­legedly poin­ted a rifle with a scope at a cash­ier and a 12-year-old boy who was a cus­tom­er at the store be­fore flee­ing in a car south­bound on Bustleton Av­en­ue.

Len­non spot­ted the car but lost it as it traveled at a high speed in the north­bound lanes against traffic flow. Pal­inkas and Fuss sighted the flee­ing car a short time later as it ca­reened onto Winchester Av­en­ue and struck a tree. They ar­res­ted the sus­pect. ••


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