TRENTON – At a news conference today with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Senator Jim Whelan credited the family of Richard “Ricci” Branca, who was just 17 when killed by a drunk driver, for advocating mandatory use of ignition interlocks to block vehicles from starting unless the driver is sober.
Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic, is the co-prime sponsor along with Senator John H. Adler, D-Camden, of S-1926, known as “Ricci’s Law,” to make ignition interlock devices mandatory for all drunk driving offenses and to require their installation while driving privileges are suspended.
Senator Whelan issued the following statement in conjunction with the news conference:
“As every parent knows, there can be no greater nightmare than to lose a child, especially if that loss could have been avoided.
“Sherri and Richard Branca have been forced to live and re-live the tragedy of losing their son – every day and night since July of 2006 – when an extremely drunk driver dared to get behind the wheel of his car after admittedly drinking in a bar for four hours.
“That act of criminal stupidity took away the dreams of Ricci Branca while he was riding his bicycle with friends on Ocean Drive in his home town of Egg Harbor Township. It also put an irreplaceable hole in the lives of Sherri and Richard Branca which no amount of jail time for the offender can ever fill.
“But thanks to the courage of the Brancas, we are here today to turn their loss into something positive for other families. The proposal we are advancing today, named in Ricci’s honor, will enhance our ability to block intoxicated people from driving.
“By requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers while their licenses are suspended and for a period afterwards, we will significantly strengthen our resolve to deal with a drunk’s lack of willpower.
“Right now, a court might order a first-time drunk driver to install an interlock device for up to a year after a suspended license is returned. This bill would make the interlock installation mandatory even for the suspension period. The same would prevail for second and third-time offenders with extended time periods required.
“The technology is such that a drinker’s own breath will determine whether his or her car will start. The device actually forestalls the need for friends to persuade someone to not drive after drinking or for a bartender not to serve up that ‘one for the road.’
“The pathetic element for the driver who killed Ricci Branca is that his blood-alcohol level after he fled the scene of the accident was found to be four times higher than the legal limit.
“The good work of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving is helping to make this proposal a national model and I also commend them for their efforts. We’re fortunate to have representatives from MADD’s national and New Jersey offices with us today.
“But what I hope everyone realizes as we try to enact this legislation is that for nearly every fatality in a drunk driving case, there are usually victims like Sherri and Richard Branca who are left to themselves to try and pick up the remaining pieces of their lives.
“Few have the fortitude of Sherri and Richard Branca to turn their nightmare loss into a tremendous positive by helping other families in New Jersey for generations to come. I can think of no better way to thank them than to get this proposal enacted as soon as we can.