BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – In 2012, two families’ lives were changed forever when a drunk, drugged, and serial dangerous driver killed Shenendehowa Junior Chris Stewart and his best friend Deanna Rivers and seriously injured their respective girlfriend and boyfriend, Bailey Wind and Matt Hardy. In the wake of the Northway crash, the public has many times taken action to ensure Dennis Drue, the man serving time for the incident, spends his full 15-year term in prison. Each time Drue has become eligible for parole, petitions have circulated. And so far, they have worked.
But the grassroots efforts aren’t enough for lawmakers, and other elected officials. On Thursday, Senator Jim Tedisco was joined by Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen to call for passage of “Christopher’s and Deanna’s Law” (S.2046/A.5335). The bill would require that all victim impact statements be recorded, and then watched by parole board members before they make any decisions on paroling an offender. “And they have to watch it from beginning to end. They have to see the psychological, emotional. The hurt, the pain, the loss of these family members,” said Tedisco.
The officials were joined in a press conference by the parents of both Stewart and Rivers. The drunk and drugged driver who killed Chris Stewart and fellow Shen high schooler Deanna Rivers has served 9 years of his 15 year prison term, but he is up for parole again next month. “It’s gut-wrenching for us. We have no idea if we have impressed upon them our heartfelt feelings of keeping that offender in jail and then we are also at their mercy,” said Chris’s mother Regina.
Eligible offenders meet with the board every 2 years until they are granted parole or until their term ends. That means every two years victims and loved ones are forced to relive their own personal tragedies.
Brian Rivers, Deanna’s dad says the process is over the phone, not in person. And this time he and his wife Debbie were given less than a half an hour to give their statements. “My God. I have everyone one of Dennis Drue’s speeding tickets I’m front of my right here. I have a copy of every one and I gotta to hit the commissioner right between the eyes with everything I have to keep this guy in jail,” said Rivers.
New York had seen sweeping changes in criminal justice reform. Both the Senate and Assembly are controlled by a majority of democrats and with the bill being sponsored by two republicans, there is a question as to whether politics will be pushed aside. Chris’s father Michael says he hopes it will, “People never realize it’s gonna be affecting them. And we are here to say that we had those same believes and not anymore.”
Also joining the press conference were the sisters of Paul Luther. The Mechanicville police officer was shot and killed in 1976. Luther’s killer is up for parole again. Due to certain circumstances their parole process happens every year. Tedisco, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and District Attorney Karen Heggen are also calling for the passage of legislation that would extend the waiting period between parole hearings from 24 to 60 months in cases where the incarcerated individual was sentenced for a violent offense.