BUFFALO, N.Y. - Although they haven't receive a whole lot of publicity yet, thousands of drivers in New York state with multiple DWI convictions may permanently lose their driver's licenses.
The new regulations took effect September 25th. Under them, anyone whose license is currently under suspension as a result of a DWI will have their entire driving record reviewed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles when they apply to have it reinstated.
The regulations mandate that anyone who has had five or more drug or alcohol convictions over the course of their lifetime will lose their license, as well anyone who has had three or more convictions, and at lease one serious driving offense, over the last 25 years.
The DMV says the regulations could affect 20,000 drivers in the state.
2 On Your Side spoke with Robin Bacon of Tonawanda, whose brother Tommy Hadjuk of Lancaster was killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
Scott Brown: "How often do you think about your brother?"
Robin Bacon: "Everyday, probably thirty times a day. He's on my mind all the time."
Hadjuk was killed by Michael O'Connor, who had spent the day drinking at a Bills game.
Tommy Hadjuk was walking down the street in Lancaster to a friend's house when O'Connor hit him, took off and left Hadjuk to die on the side of the road.
Robin Bacon: "It was the phone call that you just read about in the papers. We got it and it was just like a dream, it was horrible."
O'Connor was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to a year in jail. It turns out, this was O'Connor's second DWI conviction.
When O'Connor was sentenced his lawyer said that O'Connor was very sorry for what he had done and that he was "remorseful."
But O'Connor couldn't have been too remorseful and that's because less than a year after he got out of prison for killing Tommy Hadjuk, O'Connor was arrested again, this time for driving while impaired by drugs.
Scott Brown: "When you found out this guy O'Connor had been picked up a third time how did that make you feel?"
Robin Bacon: "I felt like my brother was run over again. It was horrible, we were on a family vacation and we heard about it on the radio. We were mortified and devastated. You would think that when someone committed a crime and killed someone, they couldn't possibly ever do something like that again."
Under the new regulations from the Department of Motor Vehicles, O'Connor and people like him, may never get the chance to do something like that again.
The state says the new DWI regulations that are among the toughest in the nation.
The new regulations will not apply to anyone who currently has a valid license.
Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita says the number one felony conviction in his office is consistently Driving While Intoxicated. Not assault, not robbery, but repeat DWIs - hundreds of people are convicted every year in Erie County.
Frank Sedita: "Every month I see a case where people don't have one prior conviction, they have two or three or four or even sometimes five. And it amazes that they're still out there lawfully driving. It makes you scratch your head Scott as a prosecutor- how the heck does this person have a driver's license?"
That was a question we asked five years ago when a local man, Timothy Gilpatrick, was sentenced for his seventh DWI conviction.
According to the DMV, more than a quarter of all DWI accidents involve someone who has three or more DWI convictions.
And experts estimate that someone will drive drunk about *one hundred* times before they're actually arrested and convicted of DWI.
Mike Taheri is a lawyer who specializes in DWI cases.
Mike Taheri: " I think it's the best piece of legislation that's been passed because it impacts the driver's license. Clients are not as concerned about jail, they' re not as concerned about fines, they're not as concerned about community service, but the driver's license is the gold standard. Now the governor got it right, he's going after the gold standard and I think it's going to be a successful piece of legislation."
Taheri feels the new regulations will not only take people off the road who have had multiple DWI convictions, but will also act as a deterrent, with people now knowing that they can permanently lose their license.
Mike Taheri: "I think younger people are going to catch on and I think you're going to see a reduction in the number of DWIs by younger drivers under the age of 25."
D.A. Frank Sedita: "If you want to want to destroy yourself with alcohol that's your choice, destroy yourself with alcohol. If you have three drinking driving convictions, it should be very difficult, if not impossible, for you to get a license to drive a car."
Scott Brown: "What's your feelings about these new regulations?"
Robin Bacon: "I think that it's a great idea. There are many repeat offenders and they're treating this like they're not breaking the law. People try to sneak around drinking and driving they don't want to get caught, as if it's a game, and not breaking the law. So I feel stronger punishment might be a deterrent and might really help change the way people treat this.
That's Robin Bacon talking about the future, in the present though she and her family have to live everyday with the past and with what Michael O'Connor did to Tommy Hadjuk.
Robin Bacon: "My brother Tommy was just an integral part of our family, the holidays, our times together and he's just missing and it's just all very sad. We carry a sadness with us that's unexplainable unless you went through a similar thing."
For more information, go to the governor's website.