WILKES-BARRE — An online petition calling on state lawmakers to close Pennsylvania’s “DUI loophole” has gathered more than 1,300 signatures after Thursday’s sentencing of hit-and-run defendant Thomas Walter Letteer Jr., including a message from one of the prosecutors on the case.
The change.org petition to the state Senate, created last weekend by Uwe Fisher of Wilkes-Barre, had 1,347 signatures as of 6:15 p.m. Monday.
Letteer, 24, of Plains Township, received a two-to-five-year sentence last week in connection with the December 2012 death of Kevin Miller, 5, who died after being run over by Letteer on North Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Letteer fled the scene. When interviewed by police two days after the crash, Letteer claimed he had not been in the city that night, police said.
Fisher, of Wilkes-Barre, said he has not set a specific goal for the number of signatures, adding that the information can be forwarded to lawmakers at any time. In fact, Fisher hopes people will simply keep signing until legislators take action.
“The petition will actually keep going and going until we get the bill passed and can declare victory,” he said.
Letteer, who prosecutors say had been drinking at a house party that night, pleaded guilty in March to accidents involving death, a second-degree felony. Under state law, homicide by vehicle while DUI carries a three-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. Leaving the scene of an accident involving death carries only a one-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Fisher’s petition calls on state lawmakers to make the penalties match, so motorists have no incentive to flee.
“If you stop, you could have an opportunity to save somebody’s life,” Fisher said.
“You’re gonna get penalized if you leave and are caught — and you’re going to get caught,” he said.
Fisher created the page in conjunction with a friend, Darla Jones Carey, who created a similar Facebook page to raise support for changing the law.
Three legislators who spoke with The Times Leader last week — state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca and Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township — said they support moving ahead with closing the loophole. But it remains unclear whether that change can take place this year.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis also has spoken out in favor of the change. One of her assistants, ADA Mary “Mamie” Phillips, is named among those who have signed the online petition.
“I am one of the prosecutors on this case and I feel strongly about changing the law in memory of Kevin,” says the post under Phillips’ name.