The Yates County STOP DWI Program sponsored its annual fall Yates County Drunk/Impaired Driving Victim Impact Panel (VIP) Wednesday at the County Office Building auditorium. Yates County does two panels a year and this was recognized as the 21st session since the program originated.
Sheriff Ron Spike who chairs the Task Force VIP said, “Our mission is to have driving under the influence by alcohol or drugs offenders understand the human factor of victimization that impaired driving can cause others affected by a related crash and how lives, families and friends are forever altered by a bad choice to drink or take illegal drugs and then drive a motor vehicle.” All courts in the county in sentencing offenders make attending the panel a condition of the sentence as required by the state Vehicle and Traffic law.
Over 40 attended including court ordered offenders and guests appearing for check-in, magnetometer screening, and breathe testing by Sheriff’s Deputies, Court Security, and Penn Yan Police Officers before the panel commenced. Yates County Probation Officers were also present for registration and assistance including Director Sharon Dawes at reception. Court Officer Derek Christensen assisted with audiovisual equipment. Penn Yan Police Chief Thomas Dunham issued the rules for the session and security. The STOP programs VIP Coordinator Jenna Owen organized the event. Opening remarks were from Sheriff Spike on consequences and creating victims. Others in attendance included patrol deputy sheriffs attending for in-service training on victimization. Also attending was a representative from FLACRA for support and brochures.
The evening’s panel speaker was Ms. Peggy Caldwell-Heichel from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania who coordinates the MADD (Mothers against drunk driving) program in Tioga County PA. She shared an emotional story of how twenty-eight years ago she lost her husband and three of her five young children in a DWI related crash where a drunk driver struck them head-on when they were coming home from church one evening. The other driver and his passenger were also killed in the collision.
The attendees then completed an evaluation form and received a certificate of attendance for their submission to the courts for verification that they attended as ordered. The event lasted about 90 minutes. Sheriff Spike thanked the members of the county task force and Ms. Heichel for telling of her victimization. “If we can change behaviors and attitudes then good choices will prevail as the consequences otherwise can be deadly,” said the VIP Coordinator Jenna Owen in concluding the event.