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FITZPATRICK -- A POSTER BOY FOR DRUNKEN DRIVERS

We owe a debt to Mike Fitzpatrick.

Because of Fitzpatrick, we now have a face to go with the crime.

The drunken driver has no real identity. There is no single picture, no one image, that the phrase brings to mind. Say the word terrorist, you think of Tim McVeigh. Serial killer, there's a snapshot of Ted Bundy. A face that fits the act.

Drunken drivers come and go, town to town, in and out of court. Until now. Now we have a face that fits. A poster boy, so to speak.

Fitzpatrick, 62, is an Erie County legislator. A silver-haired, tough-talking friend to the ironworkers. Lawmaker. Lawbreaker.

Locally, he has the distinction -- one hesitates to say honor -- of putting drunken driving on the front page. It has become, in fact, a habit.

Fitzpatrick was just fined and sentenced to four weekends in jail for getting pulled over in Evans in February. Cops say he was so plastered he couldn't recite the alphabet.

Now we find out that, two weeks before taking our lives in his hands in Evans , police say he drove a rental car into a ditch in New Orleans. He blew a .20 -- twice the legal limit in this state -- in a Breathalyzer test. He says someone else was driving the car. The case is pending.

Experts say drunks drive plastered about 100 times for every time they are caught. This is Fitzpatrick's fourth drunken-driving arrest in four years. The multiplication makes you sick.

We're not sure if his problem is arrogance, illness or an utter disregard for anybody but himself. But this two-fisted drinker is single-handedly making a case for a drunken-driving crackdown.

Fitzpatrick now says a friend was driving in New Orleans, after first telling cops his daughter was driving. A witness says Fitzpatrick was the only one in the car.

Last week, some politicians called for Greg Olma to resign from the County Legislature. Olma supposedly used racial slurs during a primary night argument. (He denies it.)

As far as obscenities go, getting behind the wheel plastered time and again is far worse than any words. Words don't maim. Words don't kill.

The real obscenity is a system that lets chronic drunken drivers walk on a lesser charge, time and again.

The law says two DWI convictions within 10 years and it's a felony -- up to four years in jail.

Don't hold your Breathalyzer.

There's a dirty legal secret in this county. Unless you kill or maim somebody, or damage something, the judge's hammer doesn't come down. You walk on a lesser charge, not the DWI, no matter how blotto you were. So your three or four or five drunken-driving arrests never add up to a felony. Never add up to the lengthy lockup that might wake you up.

It's wrong, and it lets people like Fitzpatrick -- who need to get sat on early -- play Russian roulette with our lives.

You want obscenity, we've got it: The drunk at the wheel of a pickup who two years ago made an orphan of 2-year-old Kailyn Baskerville; the blotto driver who killed Buffalo's Gayle Ann Rzeznik on her wedding night; the alcoholic who obliterated college freshman Karen Kwiatkowski.

Kwiatkowski was the trainer for the St. Bonaventure softball team. She wanted a career in sports medicine. She died at 19 when a drunken driver -- two strikes already on his record -- slammed head-on into her car.

Deanna Kwiatkowski is Karen's sister.

"What is it going to take before it sinks in with Fitzpatrick?" she asked. "Does he have to kill somebody?"

In that sense, Fitzpatrick is lucky. He hasn't killed anybody.

Scratch that. We're lucky.

Outside of St. Agatha's in South Buffalo, the heart of Fitzpatrick's district, parents were picking up their kids Tuesday after school.

George Kaetzel was there for his granddaughter.

"The average Joe sees Fitzpatrick get off lightly," said Kaetzel, "and they want the same thing."

Teacher Angela Ubriaco-Chiarmonte lost her first husband to alcohol. She has a 17-year-old son who's driving. She warns him, time and again, not to drink and drive.

She doesn't think it's getting through.

"He says to me, 'Look at Fitzpatrick,' " she said. "He really says that."

I called Fitzpatrick's office Wednesday. A staffer said he was out of town.

We only hope he wasn't driving.

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