Lieberman urges all to get 'MADD'

Sisters Paula Coppolla and Michele Lettieri were in the car with their mother when a drunken teenager hit them nearly 10 years ago.

The 17-year-old that was driving the opposing vehicle had a blood alcohol content far over the legal limit. The girls' mother didn't survive the crash.

The girl charged in the case received only a five-year suspended sentence, with probation.

"I am a victim," said Marietta Coppolla, another sister who was not in the car at the time of the crash. "My mom was killed Oct. 20, 1993. It changed our lives, changed it forever, down to the smallest one, it stays and it lingers. People don't realize, that it can happen to anyone."

This past New Year's Eve, the Connecticut state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving played host to a variety of state and local law enforcement officers and youth groups against drinking and driving.

Also in attendance was U.S Sen. Joseph Lieberman to urge Connecticut residents not to drink and drive.

"Last year, in 2001 the DUI (drinking under the influence) death toll climbed to 17,000," Sgt. Paul Vance of the state police said. "We saw an 18 percent increase in alcohol related fatalities."

The New Year's holiday is one of several higher risk periods, according to MADD, when there is even greater need to emphasize the dangers associated with drinking and driving. Lieberman, just back from a 10-day trip to the Middle East, said that one of the many things about this violent crime that greatly concerns him is underage drinking.

"It jumped out at me earlier this year … when I was just following the media, that between May of 2001 and May of this year, six college students in our state lost their lives in alcohol related accidents," Lieberman said.

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the last two years have seen a substantial increase in all alcohol related traffic deaths and injuries.

"That's why I held a hearing on this," said Lieberman. "Ultimately this is all about personal responsibility, of somebody who gets behind the wheel and has the responsibility, if they have been drinking, not to get behind the wheel. That is what it comes down to."

Vance noted a pile of 158 shoes present at the meeting, representing lives lost in Connecticut during the past year. On the top of the pile was one very small pair of girl's beach sandals.

Vance also mentioned the new law that took effect earlier last year, which lowered the legal limit to .08, down from .10.

"A glass of wine with dinner is not going to get you .08," he said. "I urge each and every one of you to get mad all over again."

People wore red ribbons in support of the program, and were given ribbons to place on their vehicles, as a reminder.

Lieberman, who is expected to throw his hat in the ring for the next presidential election, said that he would fully support MADD in any and all of its efforts.

"Through the law enforcement officers, legislatively, and nationally, I really commit myself to it," the senator said.