Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Success of 'Kevin's Law' ripples among families

July 02. 2014 10:07AM

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Kevin Miller's mother said she hoped her son was looking down on Harrisburg Monday as the hit-and-run law change unofficially named after the late Dallas boy passed the state Senate and received gubernatorial approval soon after.
If so, Kevin likely wasn't the only one watching the proceedings from afar as state law was amended to increase the minimum penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal crash from one to three years in prison.
Erik Vannucchi's family was there, wearing pins with a picture of their lost loved one. Relatives of Richard Stadts were there, too.
Vannucchi, 19, of Plains Township, died after a May 29, 2007, crash in which Sarah Marquis, of Larksville, struck him and another man with a speeding Jeep and kept driving.
“We belong to a club that the Millers do,” father Al Vannucchi said at the Capitol on Monday. “We had to be here.”
Vannucchi spoke of the pain he and wife Ann Marie felt over the sentence Marquis received in connection with their son's death.
Marquis, 26 at the time, admitted drinking alcohol before the collision, but the delay prevented police from obtaining her blood-alcohol level. Marquis pleaded guilty to homicide by motor vehicle and counts related to leaving the scene, and received two to eight years in state prison, but she could have faced more prison time if convicted of homicide by motor vehicle while driving drunk.
Stadts, 73, of West Nanticoke, died after Matthew James Perkins struck the cyclist on Route 11 in Plymouth Township on Aug. 7, 2012, and also drove away. Perkins in December was sentenced to spend two to four years in prison.
Kevin died Dec. 21, 2012, after being struck on North Street, Wilkes-Barre, by a Pontiac driven by Thomas Walter Letteer Jr., of Plains Township. Letteer, 24, is serving a two-to-five-year prison sentence, which he is appealing.
Barely two hours after the 49-1 Senate vote, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill in a ceremony attended by family members, supporters and Luzerne County's Harrisburg delegation.
Stadts's niece, Jody Stadts, was among supporters of Kevin's Law who rode to Harrisburg on Monday in a chartered bus. She said she was glad and surprised that Corbett signed the law as quickly as he did.
She has been following other hit-and-run cases since her uncle died, and became interested in Kevin's Law after seeing media accounts of the Miller family's press conference after their son's killer was sentenced.
“It's not fair. My uncle was not ready to leave this earth. And he was 73. Kevin was just starting out,” Stadts said.
“We hope now that when someone hits someone, they will stop and think and try to help out,” Stadts said. “They can save a life, and every second counts.”
Meanwhile, one central Pennsylvania lawmaker's presence stood testimony to the fact that many the cases that also inspired the change of law were not limited to Luzerne County.
Long legal road
State Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, watched the proceedings as the culmination of his own earlier efforts after the death of Sean Pearce, a cyclist from his district who was killed in 2005.
Working with Pearce's family and other relatives of hit-and-run victims, Reed introduced legislation to close the loophole in four consecutive sessions, starting in 2005, the same year Pearce was killed. Those bills were not enacted and expired.
Then came House Bill 208. After several years of work, it was signed into law by Corbett in July 2012. But it also did not give advocates all that they were seeking. House Bill 208 increased the penalty for a fatal hit-and-run from a third-degree to a second-degree felony.
The maximum range went up, but the minimum range did not — a factor of political opposition, some observers have said, as some lawmakers opposed mandatory minimums for the impact they might have on prison populations as well as diminishing judges' independence in sentencing.
“I think last night for me was somewhat bittersweet,” Reed said, because the change finally came about after “a 5-year-old child had to lose his life.”

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