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Archive for Monday, February 1, 2010

Family of hit-and-run victim seeks to change ‘oversight’ in law

Police seeking public’s help in finding driver in weekend accident

If you hit someone, run. That’s exactly what the family of a recent hit-and-run fatality victim says Kansas law is encouraging drunken drivers to do.

February 1, 2010, 2:04 p.m. Updated February 1, 2010, 7:25 p.m.

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Lawrence hit-and-run accidents

  • A 32-year-old Lawrence woman, who was walking, was seriously injured about 1:15 a.m. Sunday in the 2700 block of Lawrence Avenue. Police are looking for a light-colored, possibly silver, suspect vehicle.
  • Bicyclist Rachel Leek, 20, Lawrence, died from injuries she received about 2:15 a.m. Oct. 16 in the 1000 block of Tennessee Street. Police located Joel Hernandez, the suspect, later that day. He is charged with vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident and improper passing.
  • Thomas Crum, 60, was killed about 2 a.m. May 4, 2008, at Sixth Street and Gateway Drive. Jake Deckert, 22, was ordered to spend two weeks in jail, after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident, driving under the influence of alcohol and violating a stop sign.
  • Joshua Walton was found guilty of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, for a Sept. 23, 2006, accident that killed Ryan Kanost, 22, as he walked across Kentucky Street at 13th Street. Walton was ordered to serve 90 days in jail.

If you hit someone, run.

That’s exactly what the family of a recent hit-and-run fatality victim says Kansas law is encouraging drunken drivers to do.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Mary Leek-Stolz, who lost her sister, Rachel Leek, in a Lawrence crash last year. “It seems like a pretty big oversight in the law.”

Since 2006, three fatal accidents and one serious-injury accident in Lawrence have been caused by drivers who fled the scene without seeking help for the victim.

A hit-and-run crash early Sunday morning is the latest example. Krystyn Renfro, 32, Lawrence, was critically injured after being hit by a southbound vehicle in the 2700 block of Lawrence Avenue.

On Monday, police said they could not release details about the accident or further information about Renfro’s condition. Police did say they had not found the driver and encouraged anyone with information about a light-colored, possibly silver, vehicle with a hatchback and front-end damage to call police, 832-7501, or Crime Stoppers, 843-TIPS (8477).

In the three fatality accidents, police and prosecutors said the drivers had all been drinking ahead of the crashes. Had the drivers stopped, each could have faced more serious charges. But because prosecutors had no evidence the drivers had been drinking, their sentences have ranged from 14 to 90 days in jail.

Joel Hernandez has yet to find out what, if any, penalty he’ll face for the Oct. 16 hit-and-run accident that killed Leek. The 20-year-old Lawrence woman was riding her bike, just south of 10th and Tennessee streets, when she was hit and left unconscious at the curb.

Hernandez was located later the same day and has been charged with vehicular homicide, a misdemeanor, as well as leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident and improper passing. His attorney said he’s working out a plea deal with prosecutors.

Police said Hernandez was under the influence of alcohol during the accident but, because they had no proof, Douglas County prosecutors said drunken driving-related charges could not be pursued.

Rachel Leek’s family is actively looking to strengthen laws for leaving the scene of an accident, currently a low-level felony that typically results in probation. They say the penalty should be the same as involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a felony that can carry a prison term of more than three years.

“If they know the penalty for leaving the scene is bad for them, they might actually stay and do some good, instead of leaving someone to die on the side of the road,” said Leek-Stolz.

The Leek family has contacted local lawmakers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving to help them gain legislative traction in their quest for changing the law.

“It’s a struggle. I’m not sure what it really takes,” said Jeff Stolz, Rachel Leek’s brother-in-law. “It seems like an obvious oversight to me, but I guess it’s been going on for a number of years, so I don’t know what it’s going to take to change it.”

Comments

jericho138 4 years, 1 month ago

If I may, I'd like to toss in my two cents.

In my opinion, the penalty for leaving the scene of the crime should be proportionate to the length of time the perpatrator takes to turn themselves in... say, two months' imprisonment for every day they walk free.

The person driving the light colored, possibly silver, 2004-2006 Mazda 3 that hit my friend might think that hitting Krystyn with their car was an accident and nothing more, but DRIVING AWAY was a crime, and each day that that person spends free, not held accountable for their actions, is a CRIME. Getting off scott free is a crime and a travesty.

Krystyn is doing remarkably well, all things considered. We (and by this I mean myself, her family and her other friends) feel confident that she will one day be okay, for a given definition of okay. But just in case the person at the wheel might use that to mollify themselves, to justify their running away, let me point this out: she is missing out on her life. All the things that made her smile, all the things that she did to make others smile, she's missing out on. Her baby is about to become four months old, and she's missing out on his smile, his incredible cuteness, his coos and gurgles. Her older son is kicking butt at school and his basketball games, and she's missing it. Her daughter is talking about why she wants to become a lawyer, and Krystyn is missing out on it. Whoever the person is who did this, you drove a wedge into Krystyn's life and deprived her of the chance to experience everything she had, possibly for many months to come. Krystyn is a wonderful, amazing, vivacious person who has worked hard to promote and facilitate joy and happiness in her life and that of others, and you have caused her to have to be removed from that due to what you did and your continued refusal to own up to what you did. You could be forgiven for your mistake that night, but for your 19 days of hiding? No.

There will be a benefit concert and silent auction at the Jackpot Saloon on March 19th, and at the Riot Room in Kansas City on March 26th. All proceeds will go to Krystyn's family to help allay the expenses incurred by this senseless, ridiculous, horrible tragedy. Those who cannot attend but wish to donate money can do so by depositing funds at any Douglas County Bank to the "Renfro Support" account.

One last thing- if you are out drinking, and you or anyone else asks if you're okay to drive... you're not. If the question needs to be asked, the answer is NO.

Jericho

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notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

kylechandler (Anonymous) says…

"... but also go after the alcohol distributors too…including the truck driver that delivered the alcohol and his boss ..."

It's been done. In New Jersey, I think, they used the dram shop laws to charge the distributor who dropped off the kegs for an outdoor party.

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Kyle Chandler 4 years, 2 months ago

They should not only go after the bartenders working hard to make a living in a town FULL of great paying day jobs, but also go after the alcohol distributors too...including the truck driver that delivered the alcohol and his boss....then on to the manufacturer as well. Why stop there...if the drivers mother is still alive, she should be charged with aiding and abetting for giving birth to the drunken killer. and the Father too! it was his sperm that started it all.....maybe the grandparents can get probation.

the ignorance on this site is just out of this world sometimes.

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grimpeur 4 years, 2 months ago

"The second statute defines involuntary manslaughter as the unintentional killing of a human being committed while a person was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both."

Should read: "...committed while a person was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, cell phone or other hand-held entertainment device."

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Kris_H 4 years, 2 months ago

To try to explain the difference between involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide, a quote from online source cited at bottom

Involuntary Manslaughter

There are two statutes dealing with involuntary manslaughter. The first defines involuntary manslaughter as the unintentional killing of a human being, committed recklessly or in the commission of a felony other than an inherently dangerous felony, or during the commission of a misdemeanor enacted for the protection of human life. Involuntary manslaughter charges can also be brought in circumstances where a death occurs during the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner.

The sentencing guidelines provide for a range of sentence from 31 months to a maximum prison term of 136 months.

The second statute defines involuntary manslaughter as the unintentional killing of a human being committed while a person was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.

The sentencing guidelines provide for a range of sentence from 38 months to a maximum prison term of 172 months.

Vehicular homicide is the unintentional killing of a human being committed by the operation of a vehicle or means of conveyance in a manner which creates an unreasonable risk of injury to the person or property of another and which constitutes a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances. Simple negligence does not constitute a legal basis to charge Vehicular Homicide.

The maximum penalty for conviction of this offense is a jail term not to exceed one year and a fine not exceeding $2500.00.

*Note: The range of punishment for conviction varies with each crime and the Severity Level assigned the crime by the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Commission and Kansas Legislature and with the defendant's criminal history category.

http://www.sedgwickcounty.org/da/death.html#vehicular

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garyr 4 years, 2 months ago

"Hernandez was located later the same day and has been charged with vehicular homicide, a misdemeanor"


Vehicular homicide is a misdemeanor? Seriously?

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Frank Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

There are numerous actions that can be utilized to apprehend this potentially homicidal driver.

The neighborhood should be canvassed to see who might have loudly slammed the car door heard by the witness. The loudness may have been caused if an angry person slammed it. It is harder for a driver to make that loud a noise pulling the door shut from inside. It could conceivably been slammed by a passenger who refused to proceed in the car with an intoxicated driver.

If there are businesses serving alcohol that are close by that closed late, there may be credit card records of a bar tab that could be used to place the driver near the scene.

There should have been debris from the car at the scene, imbedded in the victim's clothing and/or on the street. This often can be analyzed to determine the car manufacturer and year of manufacture and possibly the model.

Body shops should be alerted to report suspicious front-end damage to the grill, bumper or headlight of a vehicle matching the description of the one that was involved in this tragic hit and run. I would not call it an "accident," no more than if a drunk jumped off a building could it be called an accident. There was clearly intent to engage in potentially lethal behavior, predictable if the driver was inebriated.

I don't know if Kansas has a law that includes "misprison of a felony" which would make a passenger or other person liable for not reporting if they had knowledge of the crime.

The car was observed by someone at the scene, or the description could have not been gathered by police. The public should be informed of the direction from which the vehicle was coming, and in what direction it sped away as it might jog someone's memory and lead to the apprehension of the driver.

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irnmadn88 4 years, 2 months ago

Leave the scene? Automatic doubling of whatever sentence is handed down. Heck triple it.

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somedude20 4 years, 2 months ago

best of luck with this as it is a great idea but the lawmakers seem busy trying to stop people from using lighters and potpourri

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ferrislives 4 years, 2 months ago

This is truly good news that comes out of a tragedy. I've never understood Kansas' laws on hit-and-runs, and hopefully Rachel's parents will succeed. I'll definitely support it.

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Frank Smith 4 years, 2 months ago

There is a problem the legislature needs to deal with, the absence of a Kansas dram act, which holds bartenders and owners liable for serving an obviously inebriated person. I would suggest that family and citizens contact their legislators about this. Lawrence is fortunate to have an extremely bright and responsive state senator, Marci Francisco, who can be reached at: Marci.Francisco@senate.ks.gov

Under Kansas law, the Lawrence hit and run driver violated numerous sections of the vehicle code including 8-1604, which includes failure to render aid to an accident victim, and 8-1609, failure to report the accident. The penalties are misdemeanors, which can be aggravated by other misdemeanors commited in the previous year, up to a Class A misdemeanor.

Kansas Statutes 8-1602. Accident involving death or personal injury; duties of drivers, reports; penalties for violations; revocation of license, permit or driving privileges. (a) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to, great bodily harm to or death of any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such accident, or as close thereto as possible, but shall then forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of K.S.A. 8-1604, and amendments thereto. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. (b) A person who violates this section which results in: (1) Injury to any person shall be guilty of a class A person misdemeanor. (2) Great bodily harm to any person shall be guilty of a severity level 10, person felony. (3) The death of any person shall be guilty of a severity level 9, person felony.

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asbury 4 years, 2 months ago

I would sure like to know what bladerunner asked. Can anyone paraphrase so they don't get censored?

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sciencegeek 4 years, 2 months ago

The DUI laws in Kansas are so badly in need of an overhaul that even the Legislature noticed. They haven't done anything yet, maybe because so many of their own have been caught?

There is an attitude that driving while impaired isn't that big a deal, it could happen to anyone, anyone's enititled to one mistake, etc. etc. Yet a teacher can lose their teaching license for one infraction. In some countries in Europe, a first conviction results in a mandatory one-year jail sentence. Here, you get a misdemeanor for a death. We aren't talking about blowing a tire--this is a conscious choice to unleash a ton of steel on the populace because you can. And, if you top it off by being a coward and run away, you get another wink and a slap on the wrist.

ANYONE can have their life snuffed out--that means you, your kids, your friends--anyone. Don't wait until after the funeral. If there was ever a reason to storm the legislature, this is it, people!

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notajayhawk 4 years, 2 months ago

"“If they know the penalty for leaving the scene is bad for them, they might actually stay and do some good, instead of leaving someone to die on the side of the road,” said Leek-Stolz."

Pretty big leap of faith. That logic is dependent on the driver making a good judgment, which they're unlikely to do after already making the decision to drive in their condition. And since judgment is affected at about half the blood alcohol content that's required to impair your driving, it's unlikely the drivers in future accidents will make the kind of choice Ms. Leek-Stolz is wishing for.

Of course, this won't prevent the legislature from passing yet another feel-good piece of legislation that accomplished nothing (like the drug testing law they passed to appease another set of parents).

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consumer1 4 years, 2 months ago

Death squads driving around late at night. with a roof mounted 50 cal machine gun on a turrett. That will really make them want to stop at the scene.

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Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

  1. Mandatory suspension of driving privileges for 3 years

  2. Cannot own a vehicle - Must sell all vehicles

  3. Cannot obtain insurance or license a vehicle during the 3 year period. Violation brings on stiff fine for violating agencies and additional 1 year suspension of driving privileges for violating.

  4. Minimum sentence - 180 days in jail plus 180 days house arrest

  5. Appropriate longer Sentence - Discretion of the judge

  6. Driver must notify city,county and state of any possible move out of jurisdiction.

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tanaumaga 4 years, 2 months ago

star really "scooped " lj world again(sarcasm).

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compmd 4 years, 2 months ago

Nobody is upset that "vehicular homicide" is a misdemeanor? Whenever there is some big emotional case, people (usually relatives of the victim) try and create new law. This is the wrong approach. Fix the existing laws and make them more effective rather than contribute to overcomplicating the criminal code.

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Kris_H 4 years, 2 months ago

Here's a sample letter, and you can look up your state senator and representative online if you don't know who they are, here: http://www.kslegislature.org/legsrv-legisportal/redistricting.do

"I am writing to ask for your help to strengthen laws for leaving the scene of an accident, currently a low-level felony that typically results in probation. There have been several tragic accidents involving a driver likely under the influence of alcohol or drugs leaving the scene of a serious injury or fatality accident during the past year, and as a consequence of leaving the scene, the driver was not able to be tested nor charged with being under the influence.

The law should be changed statewide regarding leaving the scene of an accident that results in a death. The penalty should be the same as involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a felony that can carry a prison term of more than three years.

Please do whatever you can to make this change in the law happen."

OK, let's get it done.

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Kris_H 4 years, 2 months ago

I agree. It's past time for this change in the law. I'll be contacting my state senator and representative to help get this change made, and I'm asking every one of you to do the same.

They need to hear from us about this so they know it's wanted.

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Zype 4 years, 2 months ago

Maybe, perhaps, if the penalty for leaving the scene was worse than the penalty one would get if one stayed, just maybe people would be less likely to try and flee.

@Bladerunner: Good question.

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ralphralph 4 years, 2 months ago

There should be severe, mandatory punishment for fleeing the scene of an accident. Anything less is an incentive to leave a victim to die in the road. That must change.

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bromidrosis 4 years, 2 months ago

At least we can depend on the Star for our detailed local news stories. Scooped again on another local one, sad, sad, sad LJW.

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Keith Richards 4 years, 2 months ago

Slightly more info from the KCStar- " Lawrence police today identified a woman struck by a car early Sunday and asked for help in finding the hit-and-run vehicle.

The woman taken to a hospital in critical condition was Krystyn Renfro, 32, police said. She was struck about 1:15 a.m. by a vehicle going south on Lawrence Avenue in the 2700 block of Lawrence Avenue.

The vehicle was described as a light-colored, possibly silver, passenger vehicle with a hatchback, police said, and it will likely have front-end damage.

Anyone with information is asked to call police at 785-832-7501 or CrimeStoppers at 785-843-8477

Read more: Lawrence police seek help in hit and run - KansasCity.com "

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Number_1_Grandma 4 years, 2 months ago

Danimal (Anonymous) says… Could the Police be a little more specific and maybe offer a type of vehicle (SUV, sedan, truck, etc.)?


Watch it now, LJW censorship will pull your comment for asking such a question.

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Bladerunner 4 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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Danimal 4 years, 2 months ago

Could the Police be a little more specific and maybe offer a type of vehicle (SUV, sedan, truck, etc.)?

There are way too many of these types of incidents in Lawrence. I don't know if it's because the streets are poorly lit, or policing needs to be stepped up, but something needs to happen.

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geekin_topekan 4 years, 2 months ago

Or K-2 could have been involved. You know? Because everyone should know that K2 is bayud,Mkay? Even though it is perfectly legal and has never been linked to a death or crime, its bayud,Mkay?

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Stuart Evans 4 years, 2 months ago

nice trolling troll. while pot may not be 100% harmless, it is unlikely that this was a pot related accident. at that hour, I'm 99% sure that alcohol was the contributing factor.

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justanothertroll 4 years, 2 months ago

driver probably had been smoking pot, oh wait that's right pot is harmless

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