LAW ENFORCEMENT: Initiative targets distracted drivers

Crash that killed Fairport teens provides
By April Amadon/
Greater Niagara Newspapers

During the last week of August, the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department will partner with law enforcement agencies across the state to target drivers using cell phones.

The idea for this initiative began long before the June 28 crash in Ontario County that claimed the lives of five teenage girls from Fairport.

Investigators determined the driver of the SUV received a text message on her phone in the moments before the accident. Though it cannot be determined that the driver was the one using her phone, the incident fits in with what the sheriff’s department was already planning to target.

“When that happened, the timing of this seemed a little too eerie,” Sheriff’s Capt. Steven Preisch said. “Bad things happen to good people. If someone gets distracted, talking on the cell phone or talking to someone in the car, they look away for a split second and then, boom.”

Preisch, who has been chosen by the state Sheriff’s Association to be the statewide coordinator of the effort, said he hopes the initiative will remind people of the “enormous responsibility” they take on when they get behind the wheel.

Sheriff Thomas Beilein said it’s common knowledge that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous, but accidents still happen.

“I think people become complacent,” he said. “If you drive around the county and you look, just about everyone has a cell phone now. People use them in the car. I think all of us at some point in time probably can be guilty of that.”

In February, Beilein talked with other members of the state’s Sheriff’s Association about the initiative. Over 30 county sheriff’s departments across the state joined in, agreeing to targeting cell phone use from Aug. 26 through the end of the month.

Beilein said they have extended the initiative to local police agencies across the state, who have been “very receptive.”

Unlike other initiatives, like the state’s seatbelt campaign, this will not be grant-funded.

“This is all self-initiative,” Preisch said. “This is just every individual sheriff’s and police department getting together and saying that for one week, we’re going to focus on one thing.”

Beilein said he hopes this heightened awareness of cell phone use will continue throughout the year.

“We’re trying to make people aware that this is an issue,” Beilein said. “It’s against the law for a reason, and it’s because it’s unsafe.”

Contact reporter April Amadon

at 439-9222, ext. 6251.