His every word beat the audience chatter into submission. “The silence in this room means the message penetrated—it hit a core," said David Swarts, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The audience before Swarts had gathered last Thursday at the Brookside School in North Merrick for an evening of emotional speeches and a powerful theatrical performance of “And These Our Friends.” The play brought to life real-life situations that teenagers face when confronted with alcohol, as well as the pressures and consequences of DWI. The Community Parent Center, Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District and Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg jointly sponsored the program.
Wendy Tepfer, the Parent Center executive director, who organized the event with help from Saul Lerner, the Central District health and physical education director, began the evening with words of caution. “The dangers facing our teens are far worse than they were years ago. Keeping [them] safe on our roadways is our priority," she said.
Throughout the evening, officials spoke on the dangers that teenagers –– and their parents –– face during the “100 deadliest days" of the year –– the period between Memorial and Labor days, when driving while intoxicated traditionally hits its highest point.
Denenberg, a Democrat from Merrick, said the “subject matter is as serious as it ever was. I'm not here just as a legislator, but as a parent too. Programs like this are meaningful for parents and children.”
Swarts spoke about reducing the number of crashes and fatalities in New York. At the outset, he showed a public service announcement made by the Flynn family of Long Beach, whose 7-year old daughter, Katie, was killed when a drunken driver in a pickup truck slammed into the limousine she was driving in on the Meadowbrook Parkway in 2005. Katie was headed home from a wedding. Her parents described their reactions when they found their daughter's head severed from her body. The audience's silence spoke volumes.