Acting governor signs stricter DWI measure

Codey honors parents who lost 17-year-old son to drunken driver


Staff Writer

Acting Gov. Richard Codey has signed a law that will make it tougher for repeat drunken-driving offenders to slip through the cracks.

Codey was joined by state and local officials, and representatives of the law enforcement community as he signed S-1504, the first of three bills introduced after Michael Partipilo, 17, of Piscataway, was killed last March by a drunken driver.

“Our system has failed Michael and his family,” Codey said during the Dec. 30 signing ceremony in Edison. “I have two teenage sons. Every time they leave the house, you worry. No law will bring Michael back, but I’m hopeful they will protect other innocent lives and ensure other children do come home safe.”

Partipilo, an honor student at St. Joseph’s High School, Metuchen, was killed March 12 when a construction van driven by Philip Gonzalez, 42, of Edison, plowed through a red light in Piscataway and struck the SUV he was driving.

Partipilo’s parents, Michael Sr. and Corazon, were on hand for the bill signing, along with about a dozen volunteers from Mikey’s MVP’s, a nonprofit peer mentoring group started by Michael’s parents and friends to honor his memory.

“Behind every name and statistic there is a life,” said Michael Partipilo Sr., who clutched a framed picture of his son. “Now, because of the carelessness of one person, [Michael Jr.] is no longer with us.”

Officials have said Gonzalez was mistakenly sentenced in Metuchen municipal court in 1997 to a six-month license suspension instead of the 10-year suspension he should have received following his fourth DWI offense.

Gonzalez had 11 points on his license. His driving history, dating back to 1978, included 19 moving violations and 12 license suspensions, according to state Motor Vehicle Commission records.

Gonzalez was driving on a valid license at the time of the accident.

S-1504 aims to prevent that kind of mistake from happening again by requiring municipal judges and prosecutors to review a convicted drunken driver’s complete driving record before sentencing.

Two other bills that would increase the mandatory jail time for driving on the revoked list and eliminate the so-called “step-down” provisions that treat a second offense as a first if it occurs more than 10 years after the first (and third as a second if it occurs more than 10 years after the second) are currently tied up in the


“I encountered more opposition than I thought,” state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said of the Assembly debates over the bills, which she co-sponsored along with state Assemblymen Patrick J. Diegnan and Peter J. Barnes (both D-Middlesex).

“Maybe I was naive,” she said. “I was shocked at the callousness of some of the comments, but I’m not going to give up.

Buono said it was important to gather for “this very public demonstration.”

Bill S-1504 is “something you would think is common sense,” she said.

Buono urged lawmakers and the public to get behind the other reforms.

“A pattern of drunk driving is a pattern of drunk driving and should be treated as such,” she said. “We really need to have these bills passed.”

Codey praised the Partipilos’ efforts in pushing the reforms.

“We pay tribute to the Partipilos,” he said. “Few of us can comprehend their anguish, but they’ve turned their anguish into advocacy. Without the advocacy of Michael’s family and classmates, we wouldn’t be here today.”

“No credit should go to us,” said Diegnan, who said two of his close friends had also lost sons to drunken drivers. “All credit should go to the family of Michael Partipilo.”