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DWI Crackdown: Tough Enough?

   After his first DWI crash, Brian D. Davis spent one day in jail and was fined $750.

   His second DWI crash could result in a far harsher punishment.

   Lawmakers have toughened the state's DWI law in recent years, targeting "the baddest of the bad" offenders.

   And Davis appears to fit that description, an anti-DWI advocate said.

   The Rogers Avenue man was convicted of DWI five years ago -- stemming from a personal injury crash.

   And Davis, a 25-year-old parolee, was driving with a revoked driver's license when police charged him with driving drunk on July 5 and causing a crash that killed his friend, a passenger in his vehicle.

   Davis is just one of dramatically increased number of accused drunken drivers to be prosecuted this year by the Erie County District Attorney's Office for killing or injuring others.

   "People who have gone through the system before know how serious it is," said John F. Sullivan, project coordinator for Erie County's STOP-DWI program. "There's no way they can walk into the courtroom and say, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do this.'

   "They've already been through the wringer," Sullivan added. "And despite all of that, they disregarded the risks and continued to do it.

   "That's getting to the crux of the problem," Sullivan said of the toughened laws targeting chronic offenders.

   Will it be enough?

-- Patrick Lakamp

It's the scandal that keeps on giving: Troopergate.

   A year after the whole affair first surfaced, yet another report finds itself getting released on the inner doings of the former Spitzer administration and its attempt to discredit -- with the help of the State Police -- the former chief political rival of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

   Indeed, this is a story with a lot of "formers" in it. There's the former governor -- who is still awaiting word whether prosecutors will charge him in a separate scandal that drove him from office: Prostitutiongate. For sure, Spitzer may have far more trouble ahead with that affair than the far less sexy story of Troopergate.

   Then there's former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who resigned office last week after giving up his top job in the Senate saying he wants to spend more time with his family and other things outside government. Bruno was the target of the smear effort by Spitzer's aides. Bruno is also the target of the FBI, which has been looking at his outside business activities for two years now.

   Then there are the four former Spitzer administration officials -- Preston Felton, Darren Dopp, Richard Baum and William Howard -- who were all charged Thursday with various abuses of state ethics laws for their role in Troopergate.

   It's all enough to confuse even former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who, it should be noted, had nothing to do with this scandal since he resigned in 2006 following his involvement in a whole different scandal.

   But Troopergate is still not over. Senate Republicans are still sniffing around. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating the State Police to determine if there were any rogue elements engaged in espionage of politicians. And the little-known state Commission of Investigation is using its broad investigatory powers to investigate the investigations into Troopergate.

   -- Tom Precious

Pet funerals for you?

We certainly love our pets. They are faithful friends and members of our families.

So it can't be too surprising that it has come to this: pet funeral homes.

The phenomenon started in large cities, but it is spreading across the country. They have been called the hottest new trend in the booming business of pets. A couple recently opened one in Orchard Park.

For the casual pet owner, the thought of a funeral for a deceased animal must seem strange, but for a passionate pet lover, it's just right.

Wilson hazing: to deal or not to deal?

  It's been three months since an alleged incident of sexual abuse happened aboard a Wilson baseball team bus.

   Prosecutors say they are still considering all of their options when it comes to finding a resolution to the case.

   But an attorney representing the families of two victims said it wouldn't be unusual for all the defendants to strike plea bargains, as is the outcome in similar proceedings.

   Terrence M. Connors told The Buffalo News on Wednesday he's filed his notice of claim with the Wilson School District, preserving his clients' rights to bring a civil lawsuit.

   "Our clients desire a fair and just resolution," Connors said.

   Meanwhile, the case against the three teens heads back to Wilson Town Court tonight.

   The accused players, an 18-year-old and two 16-year-olds, face multiple charges including felony third-degree aggravated sexual abuse. They allegedly forced a foreign object into a private body opening of at least two JV players.

   The coaches, William M. Atlas and Thomas J. Baia, remain suspended with pay from their teaching positions. Meanwhile, two others have been appointed to take over the fall sports Atlas and Baia coached last year, a school district spokesman told The News.

   How would you like to see the case handled going forward?

   — Aaron Besecker

Making sense of getting across the border

   WASHINGTON -- It used to be easy to go to Canada. All you had to do is look innocent and be nice to the person you regarded as a glorified crossing guard in the glass booth at the Peace Bridge, and before you knew it you were cruising down the QEW.

   But the guys and gals in the glass booths were really always much more than glorified crossing guards, and now the U.S. government seems out to prove it.

   First Uncle Sam was going to require passports at the Canadian border. And then, after a years-long wrangle beset with all the drama and action of a Merchant-Ivory production, settled on allowing New York to offer an "enhanced driver's license" -- while the feds offer a new "passport card" to ease border
crossings.

   And now, finally, the passport card is being issued.

   But buyer, beware: applying for the passport card and a regular New York driver's license will cost you more than just getting a new enhanced driver's license when it becomes available on Sept. 16.

   Got that?

   Or are you still confused by all wrangling over border security documents, and longing for the old days?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Colleges cope with 'helicopter parents'

   Helicopter parents - a term coined for moms and dads who tend to hover over their kids - isn't just an American thing.

   Dennis Black, vice president of student affairs at the University at Buffalo, pointed out they're found in Scandinavia, too, but under a different moniker: "curling parents."

   It's in reference to the sport of curling, where players sweep the ice to remove obstacles in front of the gliding stone. Likewise, curling parents try to remove all the obstacles in the way of their children.

   Of course, extreme helicopter parents, who go overboard to make sure no harm comes to their kids, get a special classification: "Black Hawks," a name taken from the military helicopter.

   There were some self-proclaimed and proud helicopter parents at UB's recent parent orientation, where for two days they got an introduction to the college experience from the parent's point of view.

   But it's not just parents attending college orientation, anymore - it's the whole family.

   "Now, they may be bringing a younger sibling or grandparent along," said Sheila Hausrath, vice president for student life at Niagara University. "We've seen more of that in the past few years."

   --- Jay Rey

       

New York - an onlooker in the presidential race

Western New York may very well have had its only up close and personal brush with the 2008 presidential campaign Monday -- all in the course of a quick three hours.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was whisked into Buffalo shortly after 5 p.m. and left just after 8 p.m. with more than $1 million in new campaign contributions -- a record for a local political fundraiser.

It all shows that living in New York means you never really feel part of a presidential campaign.

New York is overwhelmingly Democratic -- a "blue state" that is steadily becoming "bluer." That means that New Yorkers are expected to pull the Democratic lever again this year en masse, leaving Democrat Barack Obama to count the state in his column and McCain to concentrate on genuine battleground states where spending his money might do more good.

It also means that New Yorkers will not see much of the presidential candidates this year and won't be subjected to the barrage of television commercials bombarding voters in key states like Florida and Ohio.

In other years, New Yorkers might get a taste of presidential politics during the Democratic primary season. But with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton locking up her home state early in the 2008 primary season, New York voters didn't even get a chance at that part of the campaign this time around.

Does it make a difference to you that New York is usually an onlooker from the sidelines?

Or would you rather not be subjected to the airwaves saturation and other hoopla associated
with our quadrennial exercise in democracy?

--Robert J. McCarthy

Has the Berger Commission cured what's ailing WNY health care?

New York State's grand experiment to close, merge and restructure hospitals is over.

   The deadline passed at the end of June to fulfill the mandates of the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, also known as the Berger Commission.

   Changes the commission set in motion - some controversial and others altered - have begun to play out. Hospitals here and elsewhere will look different.

   The mandates included the closure of Kaleida Health's Millard Fillmore Hospital at Gates Circle, creation of unified governing board over Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center, and a new arrangement between Sisters and St. Joseph Hospital.

   But it will take years to judge whether the monumental effort is a success, failure or something in between.

   What do you think?

   - Henry L. Davis

Rivalry between Sam Hoyt and Byron Brown heats up Assembly race

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt's feud with Mayor Byron W. Brown is heating up … again.

   The rift between the two politicians, who have been at odds for years, has resulted in a serious primary challenge for Hoyt, this time from former Common Council Member Barbra Kavanaugh.

   Hoyt claims Kavanaugh, now a state Supreme Court law clerk, is running at Brown's urging and that her real motivation is a judgeship down the road.

   Kavanaugh, who has the backing of Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano, says she's running because Buffalo and Albany need change and the only one to accomplish that is new, independent leadership in the State Legislature.

   Who do you believe and is it time for a change in the 144th Assembly district?

   - Phil Fairbanks

Wendt Foundation, generous patron, pays for a controversial lawsuit

         Press has always been positive for the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, and why shouldn't it?

   With $5 million to $6 million or so to give out each year, trustees of the foundation have helped save the Buffalo Philharmonic, Shea's Buffalo, and the Hopevale School, and have given hundreds of other grants to help improve the quality of life for all in Western New York.

   But the $1.9 million given so far to fund the lawsuit against the Seneca Indians' Buffalo Creek Casino has broken that mold. The Wendt Foundation is depicted by those who favor the casino as elite, blue-bloods who are trying to impose their own morals on the community.

   Not so, say the trustees. A casino will draw in those who can least afford to lose, they say, and the tax-free hotel and restaurants will be a drain on the competition without the tax breaks. They say they're funding the lawsuit because those who oppose it lack the resources of the federal government.

   And their side has so far won a ruling that gambling at the site is illegal.

  What do you think?
... Michael Beebe

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