MALONE — People whose lives have been forever changed by the actions of drunken drivers may soon meet offenders face to face to share their stories of loss.A victims-impact panel may be created in Franklin County where victims can speak to people convicted of DWI, and previous offenders will have the chance to talk about what their poor choices cost them.Rather than ask county legislators this week for a one-time $5,000 stipend toward startup costs, as planned, organizers have decided to wait a few months and give information to show exactly where funding would go, said Sgt. Kevin Mulverhill of the Traffic Division of State Police Troop B Headquarters in Ray Brook.Legislators were told informally a few weeks ago that a funding request was coming to start such a group, but many questioned the particulars of the project and wanted more details.Richard Pearson of the county's Traffic Safety Board was expected to make a presentation Thursday, when the County Legislature's Public Safety Committee meets.But he was taken off the agenda to allow organizers more time to gather all of the pertinent information for the lawmakers.Mulverhill hopes a formal presentation can be made this summer.Clinton County already has a victims impact panel in place, which he says has been successful.The Franklin County program would be modeled after that and convene at least every quarter, ensuring that some of the panels would be gathered in the southern end of the county, as well.The program is offered only to first-time alcohol offenders as part of their sentencing or plea agreement."We find that if we don't reach you the first time, we're not going to," Mulverhill said, adding that the emotional and compelling stories told by the speakers usually have a huge impact on participants.Public Safety Committee Chairman Daniel Crippen (D-Burke) said the group gives victims an avenue "to speak to people convicted of DWI and tell them their horror stories."Mileage is paid to the victim participants, he said, and the group is regularly financed through a $20 fee that offenders pay for participating.However, there are no grants or startup funds available to get the program up and running, Crippen said.Board Chairman Guy "Tim" Smith (D-Fort Covington) said he is not opposed to the concept of a panel like this, but he wants to know how it will be coordinated and overseen, since county tax dollars are being solicited.He thought funding might be available through the existing STOP-DWI program, but those dollars — generated through court-ordered fines and penalties — can only be spent on further efforts to curb drunken driving.Another suggestion was to see if funds were available from the District Attorney's Office.All of those funding sources and others will be examined, Mulverhill said.Organizers are working with the District Attorney's Office on sentencings and lining up victims, offenders and family members willing to share their stories.Anyone interested in participating is asked to call Probation Director Judy Hayle at 481-1649.
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