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Family of slain first responder Mark Davis to push for bill in Albany

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For a year after her stepbrother was killed in the line of duty, fellow first responder Maricia L. Astafan couldn’t go back to work.

“I just didn’t want to do it,” said Mrs. Astafan, whose brother, volunteer emergency medical technician Mark B. Davis, was shot and killed while responding to a call in Cape Vincent three years ago. “I didn’t want the same thing to happen to me.”

But a year after the shooting, she was back at work, because she knew what her brother would have said.

“If he was here, he would tell me I should just keep going,” Mrs. Astafan said.

Her journey took another step on Saturday, when she graduated from Jefferson Community College. And it continues today in Albany, where she will advocate for a bill to increase punishment for those who kill first responders. The way her brother was killed; exactly what she was thinking of, in one of life’s profound coincidences, on her first emergency call when she got back to work a year later.

“The call that I was involved with really touched home a little bit,” Mrs. Astafan said. “The scene was very, very unsafe.”

After taking a year off, she was rusty, she said. But she had picked up a new perspective. For the first time, she took a step back and took stock of what was going on around her.

She also kept her cool, her professionalism. She kept her wits about her.

“That’s my biggest thing, is making sure that none of that interferes with what I do,” she said. “I would appreciate it if I was in their position if someone did that for me.”

Mr. Davis was responding to a call for chest pains in 2009 when Christopher G. Burke bolted from a couch, grabbed a rifle and fatally shot the man who was trying to treat him.

At the time, Mr. Davis was in his first year at JCC.

After two years of studies, Mrs. Astafan’s graduation from Jefferson Community College on Saturday will allow her to become a paramedic. That means more responsibility — paramedics can administer drugs, while EMTs cannot, for example. She will take exams to become a licensed paramedic in June, she said.

Right now, Mrs. Astafan works as an EMT for Guilfoyle Ambulance Service, South Jeff Rescue Squad and Indian River Ambulance Service.

She’s excited that she graduated. Relieved, proud. And she wishes that she could share this moment with her brother.

She went on calls with him before he passed away, but not as much as she would have liked. The few times that they did, she said they worked well together. “You’re brother and sister,” she said. “You help each other all the time.”

She originally wanted to be a nurse, but got hooked on the adrenaline that comes with volunteering as an EMT. She started in 2006. Mr. Davis started working as an EMT after she did, Mrs. Astafan said.

Today, she’s in Albany, though she said Monday that she wasn’t sure what she would do there. She is going into an unknown situation without all the necessary information — pretty much par for the course for an EMT and soon-to-be paramedic.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, is hosting Mrs. Astafan and Mr. Davis’s mother, Marsha L. Dickinson, in Albany. A chaplain from Cape Vincent will open Senate session with a prayer today.

Mrs. Ritchie said that she’s confident she’ll get her bill passed. It didn’t come up for a vote in 2011.

If the bill becomes a law, people who kill first responders will automatically be charged with first-degree murder.

It would punish the killers of first responders, including firefighters, nurses, EMTs and paramedics, the same way that killers of police officers are punished. Those convicted of first-degree murder can face life in prison.

“It’s important that we send a strong message to those who are running into dangerous situations, that anyone who would threaten or harm them faces the toughest penalties,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “I just think it’s great that the family is coming down. I’m sure it’s very tough for them, and very bittersweet for his sister especially, graduating with a paramedic degree with what happened to her brother.”

Burke, the man who shot and killed Mr. Davis, was sentenced to 16 years in state prison in 2011 after pleading guilty of first-degree manslaughter. He was originally charged with second-degree murder.

“I think there needs to be more than that,” Mrs. Astafan said of Burke’s sentence. “We’re out there doing these things, I think it would better protect us. To show that it’s not OK.”

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