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Why can’t we jail people who post Facebook warnings about DWI roadblocks?

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL: “Do not take Rte 46 west heading to Ptown,” a Saturday night Facebook post warned Paterson-area motorists. “There is a check point for each and every car and single lane only! Take 80!” Here’s my question: Why can’t we prosecute these people for those “warnings”? I say we should.

Isn’t the point of DWI checkpoints to make our roads safer, to protect innocents as well as those foolish enough to drive impaired?

Isn’t the objective to intercept and remove two-ton weapons of mass destruction – and, while they’re at it, possibly find some wanted criminals or get unsafe vehicles into a repair shop?

In all of those scenarios, aren’t those who post the times and locations of checkpoints guilty of obstructing justice? Aren’t they deliberately conspiring to hinder the apprehension of lawbreakers?

The woman who posted the “alert” couldn’t wait to get home from a big birthday bash to warn fellow party-goers. So she used a smart phone.

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor


Doubly troubling to me: A Passaic County councilwoman who attended the same shindig responded with her own comment a short time later, saying she took Route 80 home. “Thanks for the advised[sic] …,” she wrote to her friend. “God Bless You.”

WHAT?

I will cut you a major break, councilwoman, by not identifying you (police call it “discretionary authority”). But you know who you are.

And you should be ashamed.

As some friends in blue reminded me this weekend: DWI checkpoints aren’t exactly stealth ops. Police are required to notify the public in advance. But all they need do is announce it somewhere. They don’t necessarily have to reverse-911 the entire county.

Towns like Elmwood Park are wasting time publicizing what most people already know. As the councilwoman’s friend wrote: “[They] are beasts when it comes to getting you in traffic stops.”

I can picture Chief Don Ingrasselino smiling.

Although relatively small, his town has Routes 4, 46 and 80, as well as the Garden State Parkway, crossing through it – and, with them, large numbers of people constantly coming and going. Ingrasselino, looking to be pro-active, frequently has officers in roving vehicles while others staff the checkpoints.

This past weekend, the Elmwood Park DWI patrol locked up 18 drunk drivers.

Think that’s a lot? Last week, they nailed FORTY ONE (41).

Prosecuting the actual offenders is the least of it, though: Ingrasselino wants his department to make a big enough stink that people think twice before doing something reckless.

The department is on target to break its record for DWI arrests for a second straight year (There were 235 in 2010), putting Elmwood Park among the leaders, per officer, not just in Bergen County but throughout the state — again. Didn’t need a Facebook post to tell anyone that.

Last year, Elmwood Park Officer Michael Prelich wrote 3,517 summonses of all types by himself — an average of nearly 10 a day if you divide by 365 — while also answering calls for service in the 2.8-square-mile town known decades ago as East Paterson.

I, for one, feel good knowing there are people that dedicated to protecting you and me – even if it’s from ourselves — patrolling our thoroughfares.

“As a society, we have witnessed far too many senseless tragedies,” Elmwood Park Deputy Police Chief John Palmeri told me earlier this year. “As we all know, even one time is one time too many.”

You might remember the story of Antonia Verni of Cliffside Park. A man who forever changed her life, those of her loved ones and even those of several emergency workers was singularly responsible for putting Hasbrouck Heights at or near the top of DWI arrests for several years, before Elmwood Park began nudging ahead.

Daniel Lanzaro of Cresskill admitted a tailgate party already had him half in the bag when he began pounding beers at a Giants game in October 1999. He and a friend hit two strip clubs after that.

The Verni family had gone pumpkin picking that afternoon and was headed back to Cliffside Park when Lanzaro’s Ford pickup crossed a double yellow line on Terrace Avenue, sideswiped an SUV and plowed head on into their Corolla – flinging Antonia, strapped into her car seat, into the street.

Antonia Verni (FILE PHOTO)

By the time police got him to headquarters, a woozy Lanzaro’s blood-alcohol level hit 0.266, 2½ times what was then the legal limit of 0.10 (now 0.08), court records show.

What they don’t show is the collective terror of emergency workers who saved Antonia’s life that night, taking nearly a minute and a half to get a pulse from the blue-lipped 2-year-old before an officer with a child her same age carried the girl’s limp body to a waiting ambulance. The crash left her paralyzed from the neck down and put her mother in a coma for five days.

It also left an impression so deep and painful on those who were there – and even those who weren’t – that the department dedicated itself to snuffing potential trouble before it became disaster.

Arrests the following year began rising. Soon they doubled – then tripled. Next thing you knew, a Bergen town no bigger in land mass than Hoboken was duking it out with Fort Lee, Mahwah, Paramus and other much larger towns for the top spot on the county’s DWI takedown list.

“Why is it important to me?” said Hasbrouck Heights Police Chief Mike Colaneri, as dedicated, savvy and honorable an officer as you’ll find. “Because of things like that child.”

Maybe a checkpoint outside of Giants Stadium would’ve caught the guy before he reached Hasbrouck Heights. We’ll never know.

Nor could we imagine what life has been like for the Verni family and their lovely daughter, so spunky for a kid who can’t survive without a ventilator tube, whose only movements are involuntary spasms.

It was encouraging to read a couple of responses to Saturday night’s Facebook warning from the councilwoman’s friend. One said: “that’s why i’m on my porch … lol … have a blessed night.”

What upsets me is what OTHERS say. This by far isn’t the first, or even the tenth, time I’ve witnessed this kind of online behavior. I’m sure it won’t be the last — unless law enforcement authorities find a way to do something about it.

I try not to campaign directly for causes I believe in. I’d rather publicize what others are doing to try and make this world a better place, even for one person. Still, I can’t rid of myself of this nagging thought: What, exactly, is the difference between posting warnings on Facebook and standing lookout on the corner, alerting dealers up the street whenever 5-0 comes rolling up?

Devil’s advocate says: OK, maybe your sole purpose is to help your friends avoid traffic jams so they can get home quicker. Fine. If that’s the case, why aren’t you posting alerts when there’s construction or an accident during rush hour — or even at 2 a.m.?

I know why: Because your sole purpose actually is to warn those who have been drinking to avoid a particular area because they might be ticketed — or even arrested — for possibly exceeding the limit established by our elected representatives. That, to me, is assisting in the commission of a crime.

What if someone reads one of your little alerts – possibly even texted while you were still driving – and, instead of Route 46, takes an unfamiliar detour, misses an obscure stop sign or flashing light – maybe even falls asleep and plows a moving vehicle at high speed into a car carrying YOUR sleeping kid as you head home from the Shore?

This ain’t a game, yo.

If you’re obeying the law, you have nothing to worry about. Show your paperwork if asked, listen more than talk, thank the nice officer for looking out for you and yours, and beat it.

If you have a problem with the law, follow the exact same set of directions. Next morning, talk to your legislator. Or get a dog. Better yet: Get a ride.

If you’re out and you genuinely aren’t sure about your condition, have a friend spot you: Close your eyes. Lift one heel two inches off the ground. Count to 30 — out loud.

If you can do it without wobbling, and especially without tipping, you MIGHT be OK. If not, hand someone your keys right then and there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a word with the councilman and her friend:

According to the great state of New Jersey: “A person commits an offense if, with purpose to hinder the detention, apprehension, investigation, prosecution, conviction or punishment of another for an offense or violation … warns the other of impending discovery or apprehension….”

If ONE person at your little party drove home drunk Saturday night, avoided the checkpoint because of your little Facebook post and later crashed, possibly killing or paralyzing a young innocent like Antonia Verni – maybe even a child you personally know and love – the blood would have been on YOUR hands.

Post that.







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