Bill targets hit-run drivers
Bill targets hit-run drivers BY KAREN SHUEY, Staff Writer
A drunk driver gets behind the wheel, hits someone and speeds off.
Many drunk drivers are still sharp enough to know they face tougher punishment if they stick around.
Under current Pennsylvania law, local politicians and law enforcement officials say, a loophole rewards those who flee the scene of the crime.
Drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years. Those who drive away and get caught after alcohol is out of their system (and thus can't be measured in tests) normally can be charged only with fleeing the scene -- a crime that carries a one-year minimum jail term.
But a change may be on the way.
A bill set to be introduced this month in the Legislature would impose longer sentences for those who drive away from crashes that cause serious injury.
The proposed legislation, championed by Philadelphia County Democrat Sen. Mike Stack, would provide a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine for individuals who are convicted of knowingly leaving the scene of a crash that results in the serious injury of another motorist, passenger or pedestrian.
The mandatory minimum sentence and fine increases to three years and $2,500 if a victim dies.
Lancaster County state legislators said they could support the stricter penalties -- which the county's top prosecutor also backs.
"The bill makes a great deal of sense and instills more fairness in our laws," Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. "The proposed law better reflects the seriousness of fleeing the scene of a crash."
Stack introduced the bill last session and received the approval of the Senate Transportation Committee in the fall -- but not in time to get a final vote from the full Senate.
Stedman says Lancaster County is not immune to the hit-and-run issue.
"It does happen here, but I am not sure I would say I have noticed any increase or decrease recently," he said.
Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher said he's also aware of the loophole.
"I'm not sure how persistent the issue is here, but I know this (bill) would help," he said.
State Sen. Lloyd Smucker said the bill will most likely get his vote.
"(The bill) certainly makes sense to me," the Republican said. "Increasing the penalties may encourage people to take responsibility for their actions."
State Sens. Mike Brubaker and Mike Folmer, however, said they're not sure how they will vote on the legislation until they can view the details.
nLegislation would impose longer sentences for those who drive away from crashes that cause serious injury.
"The proposed law better reflects the seriousness of fleeing the scene of a crash."