Suffolk sheriff announces summerlong crackdown on drunk driving

This summer, Andrew McMorris would have been 17 years old.

But the bright-eyed child from Wading River was killed when he was 12 in 2018 after a drunk driver in an SUV plowed into his Boy Scout troop, which was hiking the Greenbelt Trail in Manorville.    

“We don’t want what happened to us to happen to anyone else,” his father John McMorris said last Thursday, at a press conference with Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. and Mothers Against Drunk Driving to spotlight significantly increased, countywide DWI enforcement this summer.

Andrew’s mother shared a similar message: “There is no word for a loss of a child in a family,” she said, “and this was a 100% preventable crime.”

Sheriff Toulon said his department’s DWI team has seen a 40% increase over last year in drunk and impaired driving arrests.  

Summer is the deadliest time for drunk driving, the sheriff said, citing National Highway Safety Administration data that shows drunk driving doubles during summer months compared to all other months throughout the year.

“We’re here to let you know that this summer the heat is on for drunk or drugged drivers, starting with the July 4 weekend all the way through Labor Day,” the sheriff said.  

Andrew McMorris, in an undated photo, was killed by a drunk driver in 2018.(Courtesy photo)

The July 4 holiday is the deadliest holiday of the year for drunk driving fatalities, according to the National Safety Council, which estimated that 462 people were killed in July 4 crashes last year, with drunk driving playing a role in 41% of the deaths.   

Despite all the warnings, drunk driving fatalities are up 52% since 2019, Mr. McMorris said, citing M.A.D.D. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  

The press conference was held in front of the sheriff’s department’s B.A.T. mobile, a high-tech mobile command center for DWI checkpoints equipped with breath and blood testing equipment, video recording devices, computer workstations, and a tiny holding cell in the back. The command center enables deputy sheriffs to rapidly collect and analyze blood and breath tests from individuals who have been arrested for driving drunk, drugged or impaired — and where necessary detain a suspect.

The mobile unit also has cameras perched at the top of a high pole on the roof of the command center, allowing officials to monitor the area surrounding the checkpoint more effectively — and to act as eyes in the sky to spot people trying to drive away.  

“We have what’s called a chase car,” Sheriff’s Lt. Candace Berezy told the Suffolk Times, “and anyone that tries to avoid the checkpoint, the chase car then goes after them.”

Suffolk County Sheriff’s Lt. Candace Berezy inside a mobile command center for DWI checkpoints, which includes a single person cell. (Credit: Chris Francescani)

Andrew’s parents launched the Andrew McMorris Foundation to raise money to fund scholarships and grants as well as to invest in advocacy and legislative efforts to strengthen existing drunk driving laws.

The foundation raised money to fund a restoration project to turn a rundown Adirondack cabin in Calverton into a new, updated space that can accommodate large groups of boys and girls. Nearly three years after his death, in the late spring of 2021, the Andrew McMorris Lodge at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp officially opened.

Earlier this year, the foundation hosted its second annual Andrew’s “Top Gun” Run 5K on the runway of the Enterprise Park at Calverton to raise money that was split between the foundation and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts of America.

The SUV driver who killed Andrew was convicted in 2019 of aggravated vehicular homicide and manslaughter and was sentenced to the maximum, 8 and 1/3 to 25 years in prison. Driver Thomas Murphy of Holbrook is currently appealing his conviction and seeking a new trial.