The still-grieving parents, relatives and friends of a 12-year-old victim of a drunken driver Friday demanded tougher controls over intoxicated motorists who kill and maim.
John and Cecelia "Cis" Fitzsimmons of Lake Street were among some 100 people who gathered in Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church to remember their daughter, Theresa Ann, and call upon elected officials to help keep drunken drivers off the road.
It was the same church in which Theresa Ann, an eighth-grade honors pupil at Wilson Central School, had been baptized and made her First Communion and from where she was buried after the July 17, 1989, accident in California.
Theresa was vacationing with relatives when she was killed in a crash that also took the life of her aunt. The driver was Jose L. Camacho, 26, a twice-convicted drunken driver. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Fitzsimmonses watched as three friends, who also lost relatives to drunken drivers, presented petitions bearing more than 2,000 signatures to Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Kenmore, and representatives of State Sen. John B. Daly, R-Lewiston, and Assemblyman Matthew J. Murphy, D- Lockport.
The petitions, gathered by Theresa's schoolmates, had been blessed by the Rev. Paul J. Burkard, church pastor.
The documents demand mandatory jail sentencing for first-time criminal offenders and the lowering of the state's legal level of intoxication from .10 percent blood-alcohol content to .05.
The petition drive was spearheaded by Mrs. Fitzsimmons, 39, a rural delivery postal carrier for the Wilson Post Office and a former elementary school special education teacher, who refuses to let her daughter "just go and be forgotten."
She and her 42-year-old husband, a foreman toll taker at the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls, also have two sons, John, 12, and James, 10.
"I pray that this (such tragedy) won't keep happening. And I am angry . . . criminals are taken care of by the governments and the victims have to bear life by themselves," she said.
"The criminal justice system is too easy . . . they (drunken drivers) can plea bargain out of things. My daughter can't plea bargain her way back and we can't either."
LaFalce, introduced by Wilson Mayor Robert R. Martin Sr., said, "Every year, the laws have been improved a bit" to make highways safer.
But, "It's not just being responsible for yourself (in asking for tougher laws) . . . I think you have to worry about the whole of society . . . and what they are going to do or not do about the problem," he said.
He urged his listeners "to make others uncomfortable about the problem . . . we have to have a sharp tongue and say, 'Don't drive if you are going to drink.' . . . (Tell them) 'It's not your life that I care about, it's those of others who are innocent.' . . . We have to change the morals of life."