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New law in memory of Syracuse woman means stiffer penalties for boating while intoxicated

Ellen Abbott
MaryJo Heitkamp-France (center) with state Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) and Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) at a news conference about the newly-signed Tiffany Heitkamp's Law

After a 10-year fight, legislation that toughens penalties for those convicted of boating while intoxicated, has been signed into law in New York state. Now, when judges decide on sentencing in boating while intoxicated cases, they must consider previous driving while intoxicated.

State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) says Tiffany Heitkamp’s law will mean stiffer penalties for anyone convicted on a BWI charge who also has a DWI history.

"It is a message to people out there, that no matter what you’re doing, what vehicle you’re driving, there are consequences. And the consequences are going to get more serious, if you keep doing it,” said DeFrancisco at a news conference in Syracuse Wednesday.

The law is named after a young Syracuse woman killed in a boating accident 10 years ago. The boat was operated by an intoxicated man who had a history of alcohol related car accidents, but because there was no link between boating and drinking laws at the time, he was charged as a first-time offender. 

Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law now means sentencing judges must take that history into account. Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli (D-Syracuse) says it was a needed change, adding that lawmakers need to also consider attacking the issue from a less punitive angle.

“We should also be looking at how to get people into treatment, maybe mandatory treatment. How are we going to get insurance companies, for example, to cover those treatments, and make sure we don’t have those types of people on the road constantly?" said Magnarelli.

And Heitkamp’s mother, MaryJo Heitkamp-France, says just because the law has been passed, it won’t be the end of her advocacy on the issue She says she will continue speaking out, especially to young people, about the dangers of drunk driving and drunk boating.

"And hopefully scare the life out of them so they make better decisions, and stay safe, and parents don’t have to walk in my shoes.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.