Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C-Smithtown) spoke at a press conference attended by his fellow Assembly Minority Conference members, local and Syracuse-area law enforcement officials and the parents of a hit-and-run victim. The assemblyman called attention to legislative proposals that would stiffen penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident.
"It is truly appalling to know that drivers can literally leave victims to die by the side of the road and receive more lenient sentences than if they had stayed at the scene," said Assemblyman Fitzpatrick. "This legislation would make sure that the punishment better fits such an irresponsible and tragic crime."
The Assembly Minority Conference is promoting the Hit, Run & Hide Protection Act (A.4374). The proposed legislation would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal auto accident from a Class E to a Class D felony, and carry a prison term of up to seven years, nearly doubling current sentencing provisions.
Since it was first introduced in 1999, the Assembly Majority has not allowed the Hit, Run and Hide Protection Act to come to the floor for a vote even though the bill has passed in the Senate. Between 1999 and 2002, 362 arrests have been made for leaving the scene of an accident in which there was a fatality. In 2003 over 8,000 arrests were made for leaving the scene of an accident.
The lawmaker cited the case of 16-year-old Christopher Bascom, who was hit from behind while riding a bicycle near his home in Schodack, Rensselaer County. Investigators said the teen laid critically injured for at least a half an hour before being found by a passerby. George Hadden, 43, who has four prior alcohol-related driving arrests, was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.
Rensselaer County District Attorney Patricia DeAngelis said, "Defendants who hit victims and flee the scene in order to avoid detection should not benefit from their cowardly conduct. This law will ensure that offenders will face harsher penalties for their actions and will be held accountable for their inaction for failing to aid injured victims."
Schodack Police Chief Bernhard Peter said, "I feel this is a very important change in the law which will provide us with a necessary tool in aiding our victims who are struck down on the highways. Furthermore, it will motivate drivers to stay and bring aid to their victims instead of fleeing, which will help save lives."
In a similar case in January of 2003, 17-year-old Gary J. Dixie of Camillus, Onondaga County, was killed by an unlicensed driver with a history of drunk driving. The driver, Lisa Falasco, fled the scene, hid her car and evaded police. She was eventually sentenced to only 1-3 years in prison after being charged with leaving the scene of an accident, a Class E felony.
Julie Dixie, mother of the slain teen, said, "The woman who took Garyís life was only charged with a Class E felony. This is not enough for me. I am supportive of this proposal for stricter penalties for these types of crimes."
Gary Dixie, father of the slain teen, said, "The law has to be changed, because the law that we have now means we are better off to run from the scene of an accident so we get a lighter sentence. There are more and more accidents like this every day, and stronger laws may prevent more lives from being lost."
Chief H. Lloyd Perkins III, of the Camillus Police Department and vice-president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, said, "The good thing about this legislation is that it closes the loophole in the law. The way the law is written now actually encourages people to leave the scene. It is very frustrating for us."