Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are working to close a loophole in the state’s DUI law that encourages drunk drivers who cause a fatal crash to flee the scene. Why? Because they’ll get a lesser punishment.
When a drunk driver flees the scene of a fatal crash, a vital piece of evidence is lost: the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). The result? The driver can only be charged with fleeing the scene, which carries a lesser sentence than causing a fatal crash while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Under Pennsylvania’s DUI laws, a drunk driver who causes the death of another person faces at least three years in prison. Under the state’s hit-and-run laws, any driver, even a drunk driver, who flees the scene of a fatal crash faces at least one year in prison. So if a drunk driver causes a fatal crash and flees the scene, he or she will face only the hit-and-run charge due to lack of BAC evidence.
For example, Caroline Miller of Dallas in Luzerne County lost her 5-year-old son Kevin to a hit-and-run drunk driver in December 2012. The driver received only two to five years in prison after pleading guilty to a fatal accident. Witnesses said the driver had been drinking at a party prior to the accident. However, since he fled the scene and was not arrested until four months after the incident, police couldn’t prove that he was impaired at the time of the crash.
Miller is now working with state Rep. Tarah Toohil on a piece of legislation that would close this loophole. Known as Kevin’s Law, the bill would make the penalties for vehicular homicide while driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of a fatal crash the same to eliminate the incentive to flee.
Ngani Ndimbie, spokesperson for Bike Pittsburgh, told TribLIVE.com that Kevin’s Law could help reduce drunk driving deaths by sending a clear message that you can’t run away from the consequences of drinking while impaired. Dan Yablonksy, a victim of a hit-and-run drunk driver, also noted that the legislation would prevent habitual drunk drivers who perhaps know about the loophole from getting out of serious jail time. Yablonksy was nearly killed by a drunk driver who had three prior DUIs and no valid driver’s license. Despite confessing to drinking and driving at the time of the crash, he was sentenced to only one to two years in prison because he fled the scene, leaving police officers with no BAC evidence.