Editorial: Close hit-and-run loophole for drunken drivers

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside the Suffolk County Legislature Building in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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There are drivers out there drunk enough to cause serious, even fatal, accidents, but still sharp enough to know they can evade tough punishment by leaving the scene of the crime. That's a loophole Albany must close in the upcoming session.

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, who has seen four hit-and-run cases this month alone, is speaking out. Long Island's entire GOP State Senate delegation is behind the effort, led by Charles Fuschillo Jr. of Merrick. But it won't get done unless Assembly Democrats, especially this region's most senior ones, can pressure their chamber to overcome its reluctance to stop those who drive under the influence from beating the system.

Currently drivers who are drunk, drugged or have a revoked license are seizing the opportunity to flee, essentially buying time to prevent police from detecting alcohol or drugs in their systems. Running away allows a driver to escape more serious felony charges, especially if the accident results in death. Under the bill in Albany, penalties for hit-and-run will be as tough as they are for manslaughter and aggravated vehicular homicide, the charges prosecutors could bring if there were evidence of excessive alcohol or drug consumption. Those charges carry maximum prison terms of 15 and 25 years. Without such evidence, the maximum sentence for leaving the scene of a fatal accident is seven years in prison.

For drivers with no prior record, leaving the scene of an accident that caused personal injury only brought a misdemeanor charge, which has a top jail time of one year. The new bill would increase that crime to a felony with a maximum of four years.

The carnage on our roads has to stop and this is one way to start.

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