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Suffolk Closeup

Untitled-1smmby Karl Grossman

Andrea Kalkstein Lieberman was driving east on the Long Island Expressway, approaching Manorville on Sunday, August 21, in the left-hand lane, when “three cars cut in front of me, zoomed around me so fast—and sped off weaving around cars. ”
She gauged their speed at 90 miles per hour.
She said the three cars seemed to be playing “cat and mouse together.”
“A few minutes later,” Ms. Lieberman related, “traffic slowed down and I saw a huge cloud of dust ahead.” Then she passed the scene of the horrific event in which one of the eastbound cars had flown into the LIE’s westbound lane. Six persons died.
“They could have killed me,” said Ms. Lieberman, a businesswoman from Water Mill, and a friend. She called the Suffolk Police Department three times to provide an account of what she had witnessed.
The crash was a terrible tragedy. Among those killed were Scott Martella, communications director for the Suffolk County executive and previously a staffer for Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Isadore and Helen Adelson of Westhampton, who were on their way to a wedding. Also killed was Carmelo Pinales of Hicksville, driver of what police say was a speeding car that went out of control, careened across a grass median and went airborne and struck the autos that Mr. Martella and the Adelsons were in. Dead, too: Mr. Pinales’s son and a sister. Others were injured.
What Suffolk Police say was the cause—a speeding driver—is reflected in what I see regularly on the LIE. I drive 50 miles each way on the LIE, in Suffolk and Nassau Counties, heading to and returning from SUNY College at Old Westbury, where I teach.
I’ve been driving a Toyota Prius in recent years and thus can make use of the HOV lane that covers most of the stretch—and like the lane not only for its lighter volume but because it provides somewhat of a separation from the scene in the regular lanes.
On the average, every other day I see one, two or three maniacal drivers racing at 80 miles an hour and more, weaving through traffic in those lanes.
To them it seems, the LIE is a racetrack despite it often being congested. And they endanger the lives of so many people as they zoom in and out, cutting in front of cars and trucks and rocketing ahead in wild zig-zags.
It’s reckless driving at its worst.
Some of these drivers are caught. But in my experience, it isn’t so often that I see one of these dangerous road-racers having been pulled off to the side of the LIE by police.
Among recent articles on these characters—at least those who have been
caught—was one in July about an 18-year-old Deer Park woman charged with speeding on the LIE at over 110 miles per hour and making “multiple unsafe lane changes without signaling,” according to the police report.
In June, a 23-year-old Bronx man was arrested for racing his car at more than 100 miles per hour on the LIE. He was caught because a video was posted on YouTube and Facebook by another one of the drivers doing high-speed cat-and-mouse with him on the LIE. “Police said they believe at least three drivers were racing as they headed to a car show,” stated the story on the WCBS/2-TV website. The video proudly presented the cars weaving through LIE traffic at high speed.
Startling was the paragraph in the article in which Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter (a SUNY Old Westbury graduate) said only misdemeanor charges could be brought “because state lawmakers have been unable to agree on measures upgrading reckless speeding as a felony.”
After the Manorville tragedy, I used Google to explore whether New York State—with its governmental dysfunction—was alone in not coming down hard on this madness.
It is not. Reckless driving is just a misdemeanor in states throughout the U.S. The penalty can be up to a year in jail—the maximum for misdemeanors nationally—but in many states it is far less: as little as five days, 30 days, 90 days, and so on. In New York State it is 30 days for the first offense. There are also fines and driver’s license suspension or revocation.
But for these characters on our highways, the penalties should be much, much tougher.
In their hands, motor vehicles constitute instruments of murder.
Moreover, policing must be much stronger on the LIE. Governments have budget constraints. But, surely, a major push to apprehend those who make the LIE so dangerous to drive on—especially by providing unmarked police cars regarded by those in law enforcement as so important to catch reckless speeders—is a top priority.
As one person commented on the News 12 Long Island website about the June videotaped road race on the LIE: “The insensitivity and ignorance of these drivers is criminal. The death toll on our Long Island highways has reached epidemic proportions.”

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