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Hit and Run? Not in Texas

Chad West Aug. 10, 2013

For those who leave after a hit and run fatality, or don’t stop and help, there’s a change coming to Texas law on September 1 that’s about to make the consequences more severe. Lawmakers are hoping that this puts a stop to fleeing the scene and it’s about to change the landscape of personal injury claims. Beginning this autumn, the new penalty will be the same as intoxicated manslaughter. Right now, leaving the scene of an accident is a third degree felony, which can come with up to a 10 year prison sentence.   Car accidents in Texas will have new consequences come September 1.[/caption] When the new laws come into play, the offense will become a second degree felony, which can lead to a 20-year prison sentence. The new laws for not stopping and helping post-accident will include up to 10 years in prison. However, the language for this law is a little gray. It only applies to an accident which may have caused an injury, which is subjective to say the least. “MADD” Support Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) fully support the new laws. According to Bill Lewis, a spokesman for the organization, “There was a perverse incentive to leave the scene of a wreck if you were intoxicated.” Now, people have “a reason to hang around.” In a completely immoral way, the previous thought process of some in a hit and run make sense. If they were drinking, they knew the punishment would be greater if they stopped than if they left the scene—and potentially got away with it. The new laws are designed to level the field and not mistakenly encourage people to leave. They passed legislation complete with bipartisan support. It’s thought that Gabrielle Nestande’s trial helped push these laws through without many bumps—the former legislative staff member had been accused of a hit and run fatality in 2011. The victim was a 30-year-old woman, Courtney Griffin, and Nestande was arrested the next morning, but she claimed that she was unaware she had hit anyone. First she said she thought kids were throwing rocks at her car, but changed her story to say she thought she’d hit a deer.

Courtney Griffin, the young woman who's life was taken in a hit and run, was a big part of the foundation for new, stricter hit and run laws. Nestande’s Claim was All Too Common. In the end, Nestande was found guilty, but she was acquitted of intoxicated manslaughter, failure to stop and help, and manslaughter. This arguably unfair decision was used as a model by the Austin Police

Department’s Commander Donald Daker. He notes that it’s nearly impossible to prove intoxicated manslaughter when the accused isn’t available until hours or days later. Now, drivers will have incentive to stay on the scene—where they can have their BAC tested. More importantly, the incentive to stop and render aid might just save a life. According to an advocate

for the law, Laurie Griffin, it’s about time outdated laws were updated and corrected. She also points to the Nestande case, a prime example of story changing without the possibility of proof. “A mother lost her daughter to complete nonsense,” Griffin says. Hopefully, there will be fewer incidents like this in Texas.  

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