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Gov. Paterson at the Olympic Museum in lake Placid, where he signed a new law beefing up DWI enforcement. Photo: Adirondack Daily Entperprise.
Gov. Paterson at the Olympic Museum in lake Placid, where he signed a new law beefing up DWI enforcement. Photo: Adirondack Daily Entperprise.

Paterson signs "Jack Shea" anti-DWI law

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Gov. David Paterson signed a new law closing a legal loophole that prevented the driver accused of killing Olympic medalist and Lake Placid native Jack Shea from standing trial.

It authorizes certified nurse practitioners and advanced emergency medical technicians to draw blood from motorists suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol--without a doctor present. Paterson says "Jack Shea's Law" simply brings the legal standard into conformity with standard medical practice.

In 2002, a driver faced charges in the crash outside Lake Placid that killed 91-year-old Shea, who won two gold medals for speedskating at the 1932 Olympics. Martha Foley has more.

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Members of the Shea family looked on as Paterson made the bill law. "Obviously this isn't going to bring Jack Shea back but perhaps this will send a message, one that we continue to try to send to New Yorkers about how illegal and dangerous it is to have drunk driving--unfortunately tragedies that arise from these circumstances," the governor said.   

The new law closes a loophole that prevented the man accused of killing Shea from standing trial. It expands the list of medical personnel who can withdraw blood from a drunk driver without a doctor's supervision. The driver of the van that struck Jack Shea, Herbert Reynolds of Saranac Lake, was later found to have a blood alcohol above the legal limit. But the jury never heard the evidence--it was ruled inadmissible because a doctor wasn't present when the blood was taken as then required by state law. Vehicular manslaughter, DWI, and other charges against Reynolds were eventually dismissed.

Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan chairs the District Attorney's Association. She helped build support for the bill in the legislature. "Prior to today, there were hundreds of cases where drunk drivers who killed or seriously injured people were having their blood drawn by someone who was legally entitled to draw blood in the medical community but because of an anomaly in the vehicle and traffic law, could not draw blood for purposes criminal prosecution.  It resulted in critical evidence being suppressed and cases being dismissed," Hogan said.

The law had been pending in the legislature since 2006. Jim Shea Sr., Jack's son, said the law gives him a sense of finality about his father's death. "It's almost closure. It took 8 years for it to happen. I'm a little bit frustrated but I'm so happy because I know what this is going to mean to others that might get in the position that our family has been in."

Jack Shea won two speed skating gold medals in the 1932 winter Olympics in his home town. His son, Jim Shea Sr., competed in Nordic skiing in the 1964 Olympics and his grandson, Jim Shea Jr., won a gold medal in skeleton in 2002 just weeks after his grandfather was killed.

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