Locals make push for ‘Eddie’s Law’

A local man is pushing for a law that would require those involved in a serious car accidents to be tested for drugs, after a friend of his was killed by a vehicle.

Dave Gibson of Bleeker is advocating for “Eddie’s Law,” which would require anyone involved in a fatal or injury-causing car accident to take a drug test to see whether they are under the influence.

Gibson said a petition – which has close to 1,000 signatures on The Petition Site website – was formed after discussions with friends and family of Ed Lakata.

Lakata, a Johnstown musician and educator, was riding a bicycle near Skunk Hollow Road at 9:30 a.m. June 25 when he was struck and killed by a pickup truck driven by 48-year-old John Damphier. Both were headed north on Route 29A.

No tickets were issued, and alcohol was no factor in that accident, Sheriff Thomas Lorey said.

But Aug. 1, after a separate alleged incident, Damphier was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, failure to keep right, improper lane usage, and possession of a controlled substance outside its original container.

Deputies arrested Damphier on County Highway 107 after receiving a report of a motorist driving erratically, officials said. Damphier’s vehicle was seen crossing the white line and center line, officials said. Deputies said he was under the influence of drugs.

“After the accident with Lakata, Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey said he couldn’t order a chemical test because there was no obvious evidence that drugs were involved in the crash,” Gibson said in his petition.

Gibson said there was no law currently on the books requiring a drug test following an automobile accident if there is no sign of intoxication.

“We, the signers of this petition, believe that drug and alcohol testing should be mandatory under the law whenever personal injury or death occurs. We want a state law, named ‘Eddie’s Law,’ passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by the governor,” the petition said.

Gibson said enforcing this law would not be difficult or expensive.

“A chemical test, from what I can determine online, costs $44,” he said.

A similar law has been suggested by state Senator John Flanagan, R-East Northpoint. The law, bill S1446-2013, would address concerns in the Eddie’s Law petition.

But state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, said the law never made it to the legislature floor.

Gibson said he did not understand why, but he believed it had a chance with the public outcry following the Lakata case.

“I’m hoping it will go through,” Gibson said.

Lakata’s widow, Cynthia, a Johnstown city councilwoman, said she was behind the law.

“I think that the law would be helpful for all the parties involved,” Lakata said.

She said she hopes that public outcry could carry some weight with the Assembly members to get this law passed this year.

Butler and Farley both said they supported the bill.

Farley has called drunk driving “totally unacceptable to society.”

“I think it makes imminent sense,” said Butler, who added the law was killed in previous years due to differences in the Assembly.

“The assembly has always been very reluctant to extend driving while handling intoxicated laws,” Farley said.

Farley said he would gladly rename the law.

“We can call it Eddie’s Law,” Farley said. “I think that this law makes sense.”