On the night of August 4th, 2001, the Herrera-Pena families and the community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn were forever changed. As the result of one man’s action, four young innocent lives were violently taken and two families and their community were left shattered.
The Herrera-Pena families lost their loved ones when NYPD Officer Joseph Gray decided to spend the twelve hours before his shift drinking with fellow officers and then drive to work. While crossing the street holding the hand of her 4-year-old son Andy and walking beside her 16-year-old sister Dilicia Pena, Maria Herrera, eight months pregnant, was struck by Officer Gray’s minivan – killing all four. Maria Herrera’s son Riccardo was delivered by Caesarean section but died only twelve hours later.
In memory of the lives lost that night, the playground located at 3rd Avenue and 46th Street near the scene of the tragedy was renamed the Peña Herrera Park. The park will stand as a constant reminder to the community and those who pass through it of the immeasurable cost of drinking and driving. A dedication and press conference will be held at the park today at 10 a.m.
“The thoughtless act of Officer Gray will forever leave a scar on these families and the community of Sunset Park. Tragedies such as this occur all too often in our communities and steps must be taken to end this senseless loss of innocent lives. I wish I could change the past and bring this young family back, but all I can do is work to make sure no one else will ever have to suffer the pain this family has had to endure,” said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz.
In the wake of this tragedy, Assemblyman Ortiz has worked tirelessly to rid New York’s roadways of drunk drivers with the introduction of several pieces of legislation aimed at eliminating events such as the one that occurred in his district. Ortiz has introduced a comprehensive 7-point plan, which would increase existing DWI penalties, create new DWI related crimes and empower prosecutors with new tools to keep these violent criminals off the street. In addition, Assemblyman Ortiz has also introduced legislation (A.8620) to lower the Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) required for arrest from .08 to .06, as well as a bill (A.5686) to increase the existing mandatory minimum sentences for DWI.
The Assemblyman has also introduced a bill that would stop drunk drivers before they have the chance to take another life. Assembly bill A.3054 would require ignition interlock devices to be installed in all vehicles sold in the country. The device would measure an individuals BAC level before allowing them to start the vehicle. If the level were above the legal limit, the device would immobilize the vehicle. Ortiz is calling on his colleagues in the State Assembly and Senate to support these vital pieces of legislation and protect the lives of all New Yorkers in return.
“We can no longer tolerate any more of these accidents in our communities. Individuals must know that they are committing a criminal act the moment they decide to get behind the wheel under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and they should and will be prosecuted as aggressively as any other violent criminal.” said Ortiz.