Three Killed in Williamsburg Hit-and-Run

A husband and his pregnant wife were recently killed while on their way to the hospital.  Their livery cab was t-boned by a BMW SUV speeding at nearly 70 mph—more than twice the posted speed limit. The couple’s premature baby boy was delivered alive by emergency c-section but died the following day on March 4, 2013.

The individual responsible for all three deaths, Julio Acevedo, pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree vehicular manslaughter and to criminally negligent homicide. He has also been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.  Witnesses to the crash saw the SUV swerving around multiple vehicles just before slamming into the couple’s cab around 1:30 a.m.  Acevedo allegedly fled the scene on foot and was arrested in Pennsylvania days later.

Acevedo was  arrested for drunk driving approximately two weeks prior to the fatal hit-and-run.  After this recent deadly crash, police searched the demolished SUV for traces of Acevedo’s blood or saliva to determine if he was intoxicated at the time of the collision.  Because he fled and did not surface for days, police could not test Acevedo at the scene.

Upgraded Charges

According to New York Penal Law, a person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person.  This is a “class E” felony, which is the lowest felony charge available.

A person is guilty of second-degree vehicular manslaughter when he, while intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol, causes the death of another person as a result of his actions while operating a motor vehicle. This is a “class D” felony, which is one step above a class E felony.

If Acevedo were tested immediately after the crash, and if his blood alcohol level were determined to be above .18, he could have faced first-degree vehicular manslaughter charges, which is a “class C” felony.

Penalties and Fleeing

The different classes of felonies usually carry different sentences, with “class A” felonies carrying the longest sentences and class E felonies carrying the shortest sentences.  While the difference in sentencing may be lost on Acevedo if convicted, as he has several prior convictions, you might see why fleeing the scene of an accident can unjustly benefit an intoxicated driver.

Essentially, the law can reward intoxicated drivers for leaving the scene of an accident.  For example, if a drunk driver leaves the scene of an incident when he knew or had cause to know that he caused personal injury to a person, he can only be charged with a mere class A misdemeanor.  Theoretically, he could even skirt a class D or C felony charge, and instead be charged with a class E felony, depending on his blood alcohol content and the seriousness of the injuries. A drunk driver who flees the scene may not only be able to escape felony charges, but he would also evade the numerous consequences of a drunk driving conviction.

Proposed Legislation

This weak spot in the law has not gone unnoticed.  The New York State Senate recently passed a bill that would increase penalties for leaving the scene of a hit-and-run. This bill has since been sent to the Assembly for review.  The legislation would effectively increase each charge classification for leaving the scene by one step, as well as increase the minimum and maximum fines imposed.  For example, under the new law, if a driver fled the scene after seriously injuring someone- he would face a class D felony charge resulting in a sentence of up to 7 years of imprisonment.  Increasing the charges for someone fleeing the scene of an accident will be the same as the charges faced by a drunk driver who causes serious physical injury and remains at the scene. Similarly, a driver who leaves the scene of an incident which resulted in death will now face a "C" felony. Upgrading the charge to a “C” felony will be commensurate with charges faced by a drunk driver of an accident resulting in death and remains at the scene. A “Class C” felony in this case could carry a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment.

The justification for this new legislation is that an intoxicated driver should not benefit from fleeing the scene of an accident so as to avoid charges related to his intoxication.  The current law not only benefits the drunk driver, but it puts injured victims at a greater risk, as they may not receive medical attention as quickly as they would if the driver stopped and reported the injury.  It is in the best interest of every victim, and society as a whole to hold drivers responsible for their actions as well as to discourage individuals from fleeing the scene of an accident.

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