N.Y. Gov. Signs Pair of Bills into Law to Halt Deadly Drivers, Toughen Penalties

June 7, 2005

New York Gov. George Pataki has signed two bills into law that will reportedly help protect New Yorkers against hit and run drivers, and drunk drivers.

Joining the Governor at the bill signing were Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senator Martin Golden, other legislators and the families and friends of Vasean Alleyne, the 11-year old boy that was struck and killed by a drunk driver last October in Queens and Peter Hornbeck, who was killed in Manhattan by a hit and run driver in January 2004. The bills were signed at P.S. 165 in Flushing, Queens, where Alleyne attended elementary school.

“For far too long deadly drivers have been able to evade just prosecution because of inadequacies and loopholes in our laws,” Gov. Pataki said. “But thanks to these new laws, we are finally able to bring to justice those who flagrantly disregard the rules of the road and cause needless tragedies. These new laws will not only increase penalties for deadly drivers who leave the scene of an accident, but will also eliminate the need for prosecutors to prove criminal negligence in order to charge a drunken driver with a felony.”

State Sen. Carl Marcellino- sponsor of the bill to raise the penalties for those drivers that leave the scene of a traffic incident in the Senate-said, “Instead of rewarding drunk and dangerous drivers, today Governor Pataki takes the keys out of the hands of deadly hit and run motorists and gives their victims the protections they deserve. Enacting this bill into law is a commonsense approach to adequate punishment for irresponsible dangerous drivers.”

Last October, an alleged drunk driver in Queens struck and killed Alleyne, an 11-year old, and critically injured his friend Angel Reyes. Under the current law, the driver could face no stiffer penalty than a misdemeanor. If the legislation signed today had been law at the time of this accident, the driver would be subject to Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree, a class D felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.

Monique Dixon, mother of Alleyne said, “It has been a long and hard journey to get Vasean’s Law passed. I am really glad our lawmakers heard and answered our call for justice. With this law, drunk drivers will be held accountable for the results of their actions. This is a giant step forward for the State of New York.”

Diana Reyes, mother of Reyes noted, “We are grateful that our efforts were not in vain. It is a tragedy that took Vasean’s life to accomplish the task of passing this legislation, but I am thankful that I could take this journey side by side with Monique.”

Highlights of the new legislation:

* Current law fails to adequately address the significant problem of drivers who flagrantly violate the Vehicle and Traffic Laws by speeding, refusing to obey traffic signals, or by committing other “moving” violations, even if the result is the injury or death of another individual. This forces prosecutors to prove criminal negligence in such cases where the driver seriously injures or kills innocent bystanders. Vasean’s Law eliminates the requirement that a prosecutor must prove criminal negligence in order to charge a drunken driver with felony Vehicular Assault or Vehicular Manslaughter. In addition, this legislation has created a rebuttable presumption that the drunken driver operated his/her vehicle in a manner that caused the injury or death when there is proof that the driver who caused the accident was intoxicated.

* Drivers who flee the scene after a deadly crash should be punished appropriately for this type of reprehensible and dangerous behavior. There have been reported incidents where an intoxicated driver fled the scene of a collision so as to avoid a breathalyzer test.

In January 2004, Hornbeck, a 26-year old aspiring teacher, was killed in a hit-and-run crash on Park Avenue in Manhattan. After killing Hornbeck, the driver reportedly boarded a bus to Atlantic City and went to a casino. He was eventually captured. However, under current law, the driver, who had a suspended license, could only be charged with leaving the scene of fatal accident, which is an E felony – the lowest level felony – and carries only a maximum penalty of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.

Nancy Hornbeck, mother of Peter Hornbeck said, “Today, on behalf of our son Peter Hornbeck and my husband Bruce, I thank you for this bill. You have come together in a bipartisan fashion to make right a long standing injustice by criminalizing the cowardly behavior of those who leave the scene of a fatal traffic accident. Today, you have sent a strong message: stay, take responsibility and, in spite of a tragic incident, extend a helping hand.”

* Existing law punishes drivers who flee the scene of a deadly accident by license suspension or revocation only upon conviction – and the crime only carries a penalty of only an E felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison. The legislation signed today increases penalties for leaving the scene of a traffic incident involving personal injury or death. As current law does not distinguish between leaving the scene of an incident involving a “serious physical injury” and an incident involving a “fatal injury” charging both as a class E felony; this bill would elevate the crime of leaving the scene of an incident involving a fatal injury to a class D felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison.

This legislation also elevates the crime of leaving the scene of an incident involving personal injury, which under current law is a class B misdemeanor (maximum sentence of up to 90 days in jail), to a class A misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail, with a second or subsequent violation could be charged as a class E felony.

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