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ANTI-DWI GROUPS BLAST FITZPATRICK SENTENCE

County Legislator Michael A. Fitzpatrick, who has been arrested on drunken-driving charges three times in the past five years, will spend four weekends in jail after his conviction on a lesser charge in the Town of Evans.

Fitzpatrick, a Democrat from South Buffalo, also will pay $800 in fines, and his driver's license will be suspended for six months on his conviction for driving while impaired. He was arrested Feb. 24 on Route 5 in Evans, when police said he was unable to recite the alphabet and walk in a straight line.

Prosecutors said they were unable to obtain a conviction of driving while intoxicated because Fitzpatrick refused to take a Breathalyzer test.

Fitzpatrick's attorney, Michael P. Caffery, declined to comment.

But local advocates against drunken driving were furious -- not only about Fitzpatrick's sentence but because they feel the case was slipped quietly through court when no one was looking.

After months of delay, Evans Town Court on Sept. 12 set a trial date of Monday for Fitzpatrick, frustrating the efforts of local anti-DWI groups that had been planning to attend. Many of the members said they had been calling the court every week to find out when the trial would take place.

"It's very appalling and upsetting, when many people have been concerned about this case, to have a trial rushed through so quickly," said Elizabeth A. Obad, president of the Erie County Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "We would have all liked to be there. We would have wanted the judge to know that we were there."

Obad said she feels that Fitzpatrick is getting off too lightly after three arrests in five years.

"I hope Mr. Fitzpatrick feels comfortable with the sentence he's been given, because the rest of us out there don't," Obad said.

Fitzpatrick, who turns 62 this week, owns a home in South Buffalo but also maintains a residence in Evans. He was arrested in the town once before, in 1996, and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while impaired, paid a $325 fine and attended driving school.

Fitzpatrick's other arrest occurred in 1997 in Florida, where he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.15 on a Breathalyzer test, well over Florida's legal limit of 0.08. In the Florida case, he paid a $504 fine and was put on probation.

In his latest arrest, Fitzpatrick refused a Breathalyzer test.

Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said Fitzpatrick's refusal of the Breathalyzer test means the driving-while-impaired conviction was the best his office could do.

"That's what happens out there, 99 out of 100 times, with nothing more than common-law proof," Clark said. "I've seen hundreds of thousands of cases come back the same way."

Getting a conviction on a stiffer driving-while-intoxicated charge was unlikely because the prosecution had no scientific proof that Fitzpatrick was intoxicated and because he did not cause an accident, Clark said.

Fitzpatrick, who had been driving a sport utility vehicle, was spotted by town police weaving "all over the road" on Route 5 at about 10 p.m. Feb. 24, according to police reports. After he was stopped by police, they said, Fitzpatrick failed several field tests for sobriety, including reciting the alphabet and walking a straight line.

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