Article about flaw in law-but are the
parents at fault more than the driver?
Crash Raises Legal Issues
Loopholes Allowed Teen A Shorter License Suspension
By LYNNE TUOHY And MATT BURGARD
Courant Staff Writers
October 6, 2007
Anthony Apruzzese was recovering from a fractured skull and a
broken eardrum when he stood before a judge three months ago to face
charges involving a high-speed crash in which the teen had been
driving drunk and slammed into a tree.
"You have to consider yourself to be extremely lucky," the judge
told Apruzzese, according to a transcript of the court hearing.
"Very happy to still be alive, sir," responded the teen, whose
reckless driving had also caused serious injuries to another
teenager who had been riding in the car with him.
Through a combination of legal loopholes and leniency, Apruzzese's
license had been suspended in early May for only 90 days despite the
adoption in recent years of laws and sanctions that were designed to
punish teen drivers, particularly those driving under the influence,
much more harshly.
By the time the teen returned for his senior year at Wolcott High
last month, he was back on the road after obtaining a bright blue
sporty Subaru WRX to replace the Honda Prelude he had destroyed in
the crash earlier in the year.
On Thursday, Apruzzese, 17, was behind the wheel of the Subaru when
he slammed into a boat trailer at high speed, sending the car
skidding sideways before smashing into an oncoming truck. Sitting in
the passenger seat was his sister, 14-year-old Jessica Apruzzese,
and in the backseat was her friend, 15-year-old Thamara Correa.
All three were killed.
"If this young man had had his license suspended for an appropriate
length of time, this crash might not have happened," said Janice
Margolis, executive director for the Connecticut chapter of Mothers
Against Drunk Driving. "The fact that he had been drinking the night
of the [first] crash should have been a huge wake-up call, but it
managed to slip through the cracks."
On Friday, Margolis met with several top state legislators to see
what could be done to close the legal loopholes that allowed
Apruzzese to regain his license within four months of the March 31
Under state law, if Apruzzese had been convicted of second-degree
assault with a motor vehicle - which police originally charged him
with in connection with the crash - his license automatically would
have been suspended for a year. That suspension would have been
issued by a judge and would have started on the date of his
sentencing on July 24.
But despite an earlier speeding arrest and the severity of the March
31 accident, Apruzzese was given the benefit of the doubt and
allowed to enter a plea bargain to the lesser offense of driving
under the influence.
Even so, because he was under 21, by law Apruzzese should have had
his license suspended for six months, twice the period of time as a
non-minor, which would have kept him off the road until Oct. 30.
But Apruzzese again benefited from a legislative loophole created by
an amendment the legislature's transportation committee grafted onto
the state's license suspension laws. Because Apruzzese was rushed to
the hospital the night of the crash, and the blood test that
revealed intoxication was drawn there rather than at a police
department, the law states that the injured person's license will be
suspended for 90 days.
If Apruzzese had been given a breath or urine test at the police
station that night, his license would have been under suspension
till the end of this month. But the law states that findings from a
blood test administered at the hospital require only a 90-day
suspension, which is the loophole that some leading legislators hope
The major problem with the provision is that its language
inadvertently voided the provision that doubles the suspension
period for minors, said Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, a lawyer
and co-chairman of the legislature's judiciary committee.
There is yet another law that applies directly to those under the
age of 18 who are convicted for driving under the influence of
alcohol. It mandates that the teen's license be suspended until age
18. But again, because the plea bargain enabled Apruzzese to plead
as a youthful offender, Lawlor said, "he technically wasn't
convicted of the offense."
The youthful offender status entitles minors to have criminal cases
kept confidential and for the record ultimately to be erased.
Lawlor said there has been an ongoing debate on whether drunken
driving constitutes a crime or a motor vehicle violation. "It's a
big, technical debate that's gone on a long time. In my mind, it's a
crime, and I think the law has to be absolutely clear," he said.
Lawlor also said he doesn't believe teens charged with motor vehicle
offenses should be eligible for youthful offender status. The
details and transcript of Apruzzese's court proceeding were public
because he waived his privacy rights under the youthful offender
statute at the outset of the July 24 hearing before Superior Court
Judge Arthur C. Hadden.
"Driving is a privilege," Lawlor said. "If you abuse the privilege,
you can get in trouble. If you take on the responsibility of driving
at age 16, you need to be held accountable. To me, it's different
than shoplifting or getting into a fight. It shouldn't be invisible
to the world. And here's a perfect illustration of why.
"What needs to be clarified, no matter what the situation, is if
you're under 21, and particularly if you're under, you should not be
driving again for a long time," Lawlor said. "Because [Apruzzese]
could use youthful offender on a drunk driving charge, he ended up
not being convicted."
Contact Matt Burgard at email@example.com
Copyright © 2007,
The Hartford Courant
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