New law increases hit-and-run penalty

Leaving the scene of a fatal accident will soon carry a stiffer sentence in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed “Kevin’s Law” on Tuesday. The Senate bill is named after a 5-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in December 2012.

Leaving the scene of a fatal accident will carry a mandatory minimum three-year sentence, the same as the three-year minimum sentence for a DUI homicide.

Since the existing sentence for a hit-and-run fatality has been a minimum of one year in jail, the new law essentially closes a loophole that used to mean there was less of a penalty for fleeing the scene for a driver who was under the influence because even if they were caught at a later date, police wouldn’t be able to show the driver had been impaired at the time of the accident.

“Nothing will ever heal the loss Kevin’s family endures, but we hope this law, which will invoke his memory, will bring some measure of justice to drivers who cause such devastation,” Corbett said Monday in a press release after signing the bill.

Kevin Miller of Luzerne County was struck by hit-and-run driver Thomas Latteer Jr., 24, as Miller and his family crossed the street in Wilkes-Barre after leaving a Christmas party. Latteer was sentenced this spring to between two and five years in state prison after pleading guilty to a second-degree felony accidents involving deaths charge.

Blair County Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard said the change in the law had overwhelming support in the Legislature and will better help prosecutors do their jobs and help protect the community.

Before, a suspect involved in a fatal hit-and-run was only looking at a year in jail, so the change will hopefully drive home the fact that these are serious crimes, Bernard said.

“They’re going to know it’s a serious offense when it carries a penalty such as this,” Bernard said. “It sends a message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Bernard said Blair County is fortunate not to have had this type of fatality in recent years.

Duncansville Police Chief James Ott said that hit-and-run accidents, whether they cause a death or serious injury, cost everyone through high insurance rates.

Most hit-and-run accidents are small fender benders, mostly in parking lots, and it’s simply irresponsible when people don’t stop after an accident, Ott said.

Any enhancement to penalties for those hit-and-run drivers who kill someone can only help, Ott added.