Police at the scene of the fatal hit and run on Route 58 near Woodcrest Avenue in July 2013. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)
Harsher punishments for those who flee the scenes of serious car accidents will have to wait another year, lawmakers say, after a pair of bills — one passed by the state Senate, another by the Assembly — failed to get enough support in the opposite house.
The legislative session in Albany ended last week with no agreement on the bills.
In May, the Senate had approved legislation — co-sponsored by state Senator Ken Lavalle — that would have increased penalties across the board for those who flee from accidents, minor or serious. That bill died in the Assembly transportation committee.
Meanwhile, the Assembly passed their own bill last Thursday night, with just hours left in the legislative session.
That legislation was co-sponsored by local Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, and would have created a new charge for those who flee serious or fatal accidents while driving with a suspended license or a prior conviction for drunk driving or leaving the scene of an accident.
In an interview this week, Mr. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said there wasn’t enough time left to compromise on the differences between the two bills. The Assembly’s bill also lacked support in the Senate.
State Senator Ken LaValle. (File photo by News-Review)
State Senator Ken LaValle issue the following statement last week on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide a college education to state prisoners: (more…)
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Friends set up a memorial on Route 58 for hit-and-run victim Kristina Tfelt a few days after her death.
It should go without saying that tough drunk driving laws have prevented countless deaths here and across the United States. But there are also the laws of unintended consequences.
Local and state law enforcement officers and prosecutors have come to notice a loophole in state penal law when it comes to prosecuting drivers in fatal hit-and-run accidents. It’s a hole that lets real criminals off on lighter sentences, creating another set of victims in the form of surviving family members left to cope not only with the loss of a loved one but also with the feeling that justice had never been served.
As things stand, there’s actually an incentive for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to flee serious accidents rather than stay on scene and, say, call 911 for immediate help. That’s because standing by could lead to much harsher charges. Heading home — or hiding out — gives a driver time to sober up. And self-preservation can be a powerful emotion in an emergency.
The state Senate has supported legislation that would impose harsher penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal crash. These penalties can be just as harsh as the same vehicular manslaughter laws someone could face if he or she were found to have been driving drunk during such a crash. But the bill stalled in the state Assembly in the last legislative session.
It’s being said that Albany lawmakers are concerned that some people, who may or may not be drunk, could end up being punished too severely for panicking and fleeing the scene of an accident. And safeguards to prevent decent people from serving long prison sentences should be addressed in any changes to the law. But such concerns are no excuse to do nothing.
Certainly, lawmakers could agree that rewarding drunken people for fleeing crash scenes — even in non-serious accidents, which can be quite pricey for victims — is a problem that must be dealt with. While stiffer penalties may not deter such incidents, there are real issues of justice at hand.
SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | A Greenport man crashed this boat into a breakwater last October. No one was seriously hurt.
In the wake of a tragedy that claimed the lives of three children when a cabin cruiser capsized in Oyster Bay Harbor, state Senator Ken Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson) announced he is drafting legislation to give insurance breaks to boaters who take boating safety courses.
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