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October 21, 2014
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Fatalities on 17B spark concern

Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell, left, Sheriff Mike Schiff and Richard Martinkovic, the commissioner of public safety, appear at a news conference to announce stepped-up police presence on Route 17B.

By Fritz Mayer
August 13, 2014

The death of Robert Schenk, 33, of Narrowsburg in a head-on collision on State Route 17B on August 2 sparked action on the part of Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, who vowed to step up police presence in an effort to curb the many accidents that occur on the busy highway.

At a news conference on August 6, Schiff said, “The sheriff’s office has investigated approximately 55 fatal motor vehicle accidents over the past decade in Sullivan County. That’s a large number for a sparsely populated area like ours. Nine of those fatalities have occurred on the Route 17B corridor, resulting in 19 people losing their lives.”

Schiff went on to say it was not anything to do with the nature of the road that made it dangerous; instead it was the behavior of the drivers on the road. He said part of the reason for the press conference was to give fair warning that there will be an increase in officers on the road and enhanced enforcement of traffic laws.

He said the offenses officers will be watching for include “driving while intoxicated, driving while ability impaired by drugs, speeding, passing on a double yellow line, passing on the shoulder, not wearing a seatbelt or using child restraint seats, talking on a cell phone or texting.”

He said funding for the increased patrols would come from state and county programs.

District Attorney Jim Farrell, who also spoke at the news conference, and who travels 17B twice a day from his home in Cochecton to Monticello, said drugs and alcohol play a large role in fatal crashes and his office is committed to keeping Route 17B safe.

Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic, who runs a victims impact panel, which meets every other month as part of a program for people convicted of driving drunk or while on drugs, said 60 to 80 people attend each session. He said, “I always tell the people celebrate life, have some wine, have whatever you want, but don’t get in a car and drive.”