After hearing from victims’ family members, Kansas lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make those who leave the scene of a fatality hit-and-run crash face prison time.
The bill would increase the punishment for the crime to up to 32 months in prison.
Charles Branson, Douglas County district attorney, said that one of the hardest things he has to do is explain to families of victims why the law doesn’t allow defendants to be held accountable for their crimes.
“We have a problem in Kansas with DUIs and people circumventing DUI laws,” Branson said.
And in many of these hit-and-run cases, that’s exactly what’s happening, he said. Defendants are leaving the scene, and often turning themselves in the next day to rob the state of evidence in a DUI case. As it stands today, someone who leaves the scene of a fatality crash would likely face only probation.
“I think everyone knows it’s the right thing to do, to stay at the scene of an accident, and at least call the authorities for help,” said Jeff Stolz, whose sister-in-law, Rachel Leek, died in a hit-and-run accident in October 2009.
Leek was riding her bicycle, just south of 10th and Tennessee streets, when she was hit and left unconscious.
State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said at a Friday press conference that they supported the legislation.
Davis said he introduced it after he heard from families who had been affected by the law, and saw defendants get off with lighter sentences than they deserved.
“As folks in Lawrence and Douglas County are well aware, we’ve had a couple of terrible tragedies in the last couple years,” Davis said.
Leaving the scene of a fatality accident would increase from a level nine person felony to a level five person felony. The severity of the punishment for the charge of leaving the scene of an accident that caused great bodily harm would also increase under the bill, as the charge would increase from a level 10 to a level eight person felony.
Davis expressed optimism that the bill would become law, and hearings for the bill will be scheduled soon.
“I’ll be ecstatic if it happens,” said Ryan Crum, who has also fought for the changes in the law since his father, Thomas Crum, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in May 2008. “Basically, what I wanted to do was force people to do what’s right.”