Weekly Feature



2011-12-08 / Front Page

Billboards preach safe driving

by KIMBERLY MCDOWELL Editor


West Seneca native Karen Kwiatkowski was killed by a drunk driver in 1998. She is the focal point of three billboards, as shown above, that will be up in West Seneca, Cheektowaga and North Tonawanda. The safe-driving message is promoted by Crusade Against Impaired Driving. West Seneca native Karen Kwiatkowski was killed by a drunk driver in 1998. She is the focal point of three billboards, as shown above, that will be up in West Seneca, Cheektowaga and North Tonawanda. The safe-driving message is promoted by Crusade Against Impaired Driving.

Volunteers with Crusade Against Impaired Driving are urging drivers across the region to put down their phones and practice sobriety when driving this holiday season.

A trio of billboards have gone up this week, through the support of Lamar Advertising and Cornerstone Credit Union, to remind drivers of the dangers of texting and drinking while driving.

Each displays a photo of an innocent life lost at the hands of an impaired driver with the following message:

“Do you want someone missing from your table every holiday?”

The billboards are located on Transit Road near East Center Road, West Seneca; the Kensington Expressway/ Route 33 near Dick Road, Cheektowaga; and Erie Avenue, east of Zimmerman Street, North Tonawanda. They will be up through the beginning of January.

The message is especially poignant after three incidents of driving while intoxicated occurred this past week, said Deanna Russo, executive director of CAID.

On Monday, former Buffalo Sabre Matthew Barnaby was fired from his ESPN analyst position after a DWI arrest over the weekend in Clarence. He may be deported to Canada.

In addition, a man was charged with DWI felony after he allegedly switched driving positions with his wife following a crash in Clarence on Tuesday. The head of the Federal Aviation Administration resigned from his position that same day in light of a DWI arrest over the weekend.

Russo founded CAID four years ago; her motivation to reach out to the community and spread awareness about impaired driving came years after the death of her younger sister.

Karen Kwiatkowski, 18, was struck head-on by a drunk driver on Seneca Street near Cazenovia Park in 1998.

The photo on each of the billboards is of Kwiatkowski, a West Seneca native and former West Seneca Girls Softball Association player.

“It’s hard to hear about another tragedy because drunk driving is so preventable,” Russo wrote on her blog last month. “Call a taxi, a friend, family — just don’t drink and drive. It’s not worth it.”

Russo’s blog can be accessed on the organization’s Web page, www.caidonline.com.

Based on the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Russo said 32 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2009 — that amounts to 10,839 deaths — involved a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher.

Additionally, 341 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2008, accounting for 28 percent of all traffic fatalities in New York State. During the holiday period, those ages 21 to 24 continuously account for the highest percentage of impaired drivers.

“So many parties take place during the holiday season. It’s a time to celebrate, but we’re hoping that people do so safely,” said Russo. “As painful as it will be for me to see a billboard of my sister, I’m hoping that it reminds people of the countless lives lost at the hands of drunk and texting drivers. Our holidays won’t be the same because of a drunk driver.”

According to AAA, more than a million people are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in the United States each year. That equates to two arrests every minute, Russo added.

The mission of CAID is to prevent the loss of life through education, advocacy and awareness, which Russo said has been her greatest accomplishment since founding the organization in the fall of 2007.

There are between 20 and 30 volunteers who work with Russo, each striving to inform people about the dangers of texting or drinking and driving, as well as the threat that impaired drivers pose to the community.

“Thinking of Karen, she missed my wedding and the birth of her niece; she would have been my daughter’s godmother ... she’s missed quite a bit and I want people to know that her death isn’t going in vain. It’s not something you just read about in the news — it’s a real person who won’t be at our dinner table because of someone making a bad choice,” said Russo.

“As emotional as it’s going to be, I know how many other people are going to be impacted by the message. That’s why it’s worth it in the end,” she added.

The organization’s message extends to everyone impacted by driving while intoxicated, including those who have the power to change DWI policies and laws.

Funding to rent the billboard space is provided by donations made to the organization or from its fundraising events, such as the fifth annual 2012 CAID Softball Tournament, which is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 11, at Sunshine Park in West Seneca.

email: kmcdowell@beenews.com

 

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