Politicians won't pass tougher DWI laws for NYS

Posted at 8:57 PM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-30 10:07:46-04

It has been more than three years since David Smith swerved his motorcycle off the road, running into three people. Two of them died, and Smith was convicted of Driving While Intoxicated.

Smith could be out of jail in the next year. The family of the youngest victim is now fighting to change the law.

Jocelyn Elberson was just 25-years-old when she was killed while walking on the Amherst Bike Path. Eighty-one-year-old Sheila Pelton was also killed. Her husband, Foster Pelton, was injured.

"Jocelyn was a lover of life, always had a smile on her face," remembered Kathy Elberson, who had been walking with her daughter the day of the crash. "She loved babies."

Because of Jocelyn's love for her church and children, the Elberson family made a donation to the New Covenant Tabernacle in Jocelyn's name. The Church completely renovated the nursery, where Elberson had worked.

Elberson's parents are determined that their daughter will not have died in vain.

Smith had six prior DWI arrests in three different states -- New York, Ohio and Florida. The charge in Florida was dismissed. However, he was convicted of DWI charges in Ohio, North Tonawanda and Grand Island.

Smith was sentenced to a four to 12 year prison sentence, less than the current maximum of 5 to 15 years.

"Was I upset? You bet," recalled Kathy Elberson. "I think that's what made us say the legislation's got to have harsher penalties."

On sentencing day, Jocelyn's father, Chuck Elberson, vowed, "My wife and I will make it our goal to try and get changes made."

Jocelyn's Law would increase the crime of vehicular manslaughter to aggravated vehicular homicide, for anyone with three or more prior DWI convictions.

The punishment would increase from a maximum of 15 years in prison to 25 years behind bars.

"People have to start taking responsibility and learning from their actions," Chuck Elberson said. "If they're not going to do that, then this is the consequence."

However, the legislation continuously stalls.

While Jocelyn's Law has already passed the State Senate three times, Jocelyn's Law has not made it through the Assembly. The Elberson family was told that members of the Codes Committee feel that there are already enough laws on the table.

"Just take and put themselves in our shoes," Chuck Elberson asked of the Assembly. "What if something happened to their family members? Wouldn't they want something available to the Judge to put these people out there and send a strict message?"

"It's devastating," Kathy Elberson added. "They're innocent, they're gone. And the person who's drinking and driving is still around to live their life."

Senator Patrick Gallivan (R-Elma) released a statement stating, "This is the third consecutive year the Senate has passed this important legislation and it's time for the Assembly to do the same."

"Those who repeatedly choose to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs show a blatant disregard for the law and when their reckless action results in the death of others, they should face the harshest penalties possible."

Assemblyman Schimminger (D-Tonawanda) office added, "Assemblyman Schimminger has continued his push for Jocelyn's Law to be moved favorably out of the Assembly Codes Committee and passed on the Assembly floor. He filed a '99 Form' with the Codes Committee last year (which requires the committee to bring the bill to an agenda for a vote within the 2-year Legislative Session). Currently, however, the feeling of the Codes Committee seems to be that the current law is sufficient."