PENN YAN — A Steuben County woman whose mother was killed by a drunk driver was the keynote speaker at two Yates County drunk/impaired driving victim impact panels.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike said the annual fall event at the county office building was split into two dates, Sept. 30 and Oct. 21, due to COVID-19 restrictions against large gatherings.

“Our mission is to have driving under the influence by alcohol or drugs offenders understand the human factor of victimization that impaired driving can cause others affected by a related crash and how lives, families and friends are forever affected by making a bad choice to drink or take illegal drugs, and then drive a motor vehicle,” Spike, who chairs the victim impact panel task force, said in a press release.

As part of their case disposition and court order, all impaired driving offenders in the county are required to attend a victim impact panel. Thirty-three offenders attended this fall’s sessions, getting magnetometer screening and breath testing by sheriff’s deputies, court security, and Penn Yan police officers. Yates County probation officers, including Director Sharon Dawes, also attended the event, as did Penn Yan Police Chief Tom Dunham.

Spike said Linda Wright, panel coordinator for the STOP-DWI program, organized the event.

Two newer sheriff’s deputies were there as part of officer training and awareness. Spike was the event’s emcee, with District Attorney Todd Casella giving opening remarks on the legal consequences of impaired driving.

The featured speaker was Michelle Curtin, a teacher in the Wayland-Cohocton school district whose mother, an elementary school teacher, was killed by an intoxicated driver. Spike said Curtin has turned her grief into a campaign of awareness for parents and teens, and she has been recognized by the Steuben County STOP-DWI program.

“Those in attendance certainly realized how her life and family were forever impacted by someone not thinking and driving drunk with a very high BAC (blood-alcohol level),” Spike said.

“If we can change behaviors and attitudes then good choices will replace bad ones, for if not the consequences can be deadly,” Wright added.

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