Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Crackdown on Deadly Flying Ice Widens

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Crackdown on Deadly Flying Ice Widens

Article excerpt

When Michael Eastman was killed in a crash on icy Route 17 in Paramus, his 15-year-old daughter struggled to make sense of the bizarre tragedy.

"Police said ice from a passing truck smashed through the windshield and hit him," Mahwah's Michele Redfern recalled this week on the 20th anniversary of her father's death. "Dad was just 44. How could such a thing happen?"

There was no good answer, but Redfern and her mother, Catherine, found one. They began lobbying for laws to prevent similar tragedies. It took 14 years of persistent persuasion, but New Jersey became the first state to require motorists to sweep snow and ice from their vehicles. Last year, 1,222 tickets were issued - nearly half of them in Bergen, Passaic and Morris counties, according to court records.

But neither Redfern, a newly married teacher, nor her mother, who lives in Washington Township, are resting on their laurels.

"Last February, Michele showed me this newspaper clipping about a man who was hurt when ice crashed through his windshield on the Tappan Zee Bridge," said Catherine Eastman. "So I think we have more to do. What's needed to pass legislation is for people who drive in New York to come forward with their stories."

A likely poster child for this cause is Frank Kopicki of Valhalla, N.Y., whose encounter on the Tappan Zee wasn't much different from the one that killed Michael Eastman on Route 17.

"If ice came off the truck at a slightly different angle, I'm sure I would have lost my life," said Kopicki.

Then 23, he watched helplessly as the foot-and-a-half-long slab sailed in the air and moved sideways in the wind.

"There was no way to judge where it would land," he said. "I just hoped it wouldn't hit me."

He blacked out for a moment upon impact, then reached for his head to find it covered with blood.

Luckily, an emergency medical technician was in a nearby car and quickly came to his aid. Other motorists got out of their cars and kept him warm with blankets. Kopicki was hospitalized with a slight concussion and a deep gash in his forehead. He missed a week's work at J.P. Morgan, where he is an interest-rate analyst.

"Should there be a law to prevent this?" he said, repeating a question. "Absolutely! If I can get out of work to testify at a hearing, I'd do it gladly."

Eastman and her daughter plan to address a New York State Senate panel that's considering a New Jersey-style law sponsored by Queens Democrat Tony Avella. The legislation would impose $75 fines on any driver ticketed for carrying snow - three times more than the Garden State penalty for a first offense. Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have similar laws, but attempts to get a comparable bill passed in the Empire State have been stuck in committee.

"New York needs this law because flying snow and ice are so dangerous," said Avella, who recalled swerving a week ago to avoid a wintry missile on the Long Island Expressway. …

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