By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said he is confident a proposal he made last year for stricter penalties against hit-run drivers will become law, now that other legislators have joined his cause.
Golden said he is pleased that state senators Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Ken LaValle (R- Port Jefferson) and assembly members Ed Hennessey (D-Medford) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are cosponsoring his legislation. Golden originally introduced the bill last year.
The new version of the bill, like Golden’s previously proposed legislation, would increase the penalties for leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident.
This bill was introduced on Jan. 18 in response to the tragic hit and run death of Erika Hughes, a 24-year-old Mastic resident and mother of a 15-month-old girl, back in 2011. CBS 2 News reported that the young woman was crossing the road and was struck by a driver who never stopped. The driver received a sentence of one and a third to four years in prison.
The new bill would change the crime of a fatal hit and run from a Class D Felony to a Class C Felony which increases the prison time to a maximum of 15 years behind bars.
Under this bill, the punishment for other types of hit and run offenses will also be upgraded, Golden said.
"I thank my colleagues for their support of this legislation which has the potential to decrease the number of incidents where motorists just keep going after hitting a pedestrian,” Golden said.
“In my district and throughout the state, families have been destroyed by such a disregard for human life. I believe that there are instances where, if the driver stopped at the scene and called for help, the victim may have had a chance to survive. This legislation will make our roads safer and save lives, and this year, this bill should become law," Golden said.
The way the system works now, drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can actually receive less of a punishment if they flee the scene of an accident, according to Zeldin.
As an example, he said that in the case of a first-time offender, a driver who wrongfully flees the scene of an accident where a personal injury has occurred can only be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of only one year in jail. But if the driver remains at the scene and is found to be intoxicated or impaired by drugs, he or she can be immediately charged with a Class E felony, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
The incentive for a drunk or impaired driver to flee the scene of a hit and run accident is greater, Zeldin said.
“When vehicular accidents occur, most people are responsible enough to stop and wait for law enforcement to arrive. It is tragically disturbing that in some cases, drivers would leave a victim like Erika to die on the road. For those cowards who lack the basic human decency to stop, render assistance and account for their actions, the law should more appropriately reflect the seriousness of this crime. New York’s penalties for drunk driving, for example, are far more severe than the relatively light penalties for hit-and-run. The law actually makes it appear wiser to some drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol to flee the scene,” Zeldin said.