July 25, 2006

One New York state teenager was killed and another injured when a man with sleep apnea fell asleep behind the wheel of his Hummer and hit the girls, Suffolk County, NY, police said in a story reported in Newsday.

The man had reportedly not been getting a good night’s rest or using his prescribed sleep apnea treatment prior to the July 23rd accident. The two girls, Blanca Benitez, 15, and Anna Benitez, 17, were on their way home from their cousin’s house at around 1:00 pm when the Hummer jumped the curb and struck them from behind. Blanca, the younger of the two girls, died and Anna suffered head injuries. According to police statements in the Newsday article, Gerald Taddonio, the man named as the driver of the vehicle, is not expected to be charged because the incident was accidental and due to a loss of concentration.

According to the Newsday article, in New York, those with sleep apnea are not required to report their condition to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. However, a driver’s license can be revoked if the person holding it is found to have a condition that makes him or her a dangerous driver.

Newsday quoted the girls mother, Blanca Gonzalez, as saying, "I don’t know why he was driving. How long before someone with his illness hurts someone else?"

Daytime drowsiness can be a significant problem for those with untreated or poorly treated sleep apnea. The National Sleep Foundation offers the following countermeasures to prevent a fall-asleep crash while driving:

• Watch for the warning signs of fatigue.
• Stop driving: pull off at the next exit, rest area or find a place to sleep for the night.
• Take a nap: find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap.
• Consume caffeine: the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
• Try consuming caffeine before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both.

Read Newsday.com follow-up stories at http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-lifata0724,0,3160842.story?coll=ny-linews-headlines and http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-liapne0725,0,6437651.story?coll=ny-main-bigpix.

Learn more about drowsy driving at http://www.sleepfoundation.org/hottopics/index.php?secid=10.