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Changes sought in hit-and-run law in Pa.

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Some prosecutors and politicians are calling for changes in Pennsylvania laws that they say might encourage drivers to flee the scene of an accident if they have been drinking.

Under current law, they say, those convicted of driving under the influence in a fatal accident face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years, while those who leave the scene and are caught after the alcohol has left their system usually can be charged only with fleeing the scene, which carries a one-year minimum term.

Luzerne County First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce told the Citizens' Voice newspaper in Wilkes-Barre that officials believe the mandatory minimum sentence for hit-and-run convictions should be higher than that for driving under the influence in a fatal crash.

Last year, state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, proposed increasing the mandatory minimum penalty for hit-and-run drivers to three years, but he says some state senators objected, arguing that mandatory minimum terms lead to overcrowded prisons.

In a compromise, that charge was increased to a second-degree felony, with a maximum term of 10 years rather than seven. The one-year mandatory minimum term remained the same.

Sanguedolce said the change will likely have no effect for offenders with little or no criminal history, since sentencing guidelines factor in criminal history as well as the gravity of the offense.

“The maximum sentence may be so far away from the standard range that the judge would not reach it,” he said.

Diane Velikis, 53, of Pringle, whose sister was killed in a hit-and-run accident, said she cannot understand how drivers can flee after hitting someone, leaving them there to die.

“I can't wrap my head around it, how they could keep going. I understand they didn't mean to do it. But what they do mean to do is run so they don't get caught. They should go to prison,” Velikis said.

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