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“Damien’s Law?” Gatto Hit and Run Bill Clears Committee

3:45 PM PDT on March 12, 2013

Every time a cyclist is struck down by a negligent driver, especially when a hit and run is involved, I shudder. Since most of my on-bike time these days involve having a child either strapped to a seat behind me or nestled in a car-seat attachment in front of me, every crash leaves a scary reminder that no matter how safe I bicycle, I'm reliant on every passing car not to crash into me.

When a struck cyclist happens to share my name, I double-shudder. When the case is as horrific of the one suffered by Damien Kevitt, it's a triple shudder. Kevitt was struck by a mini-van while riding his bicycle and dragged more than a quarter mile, down Interstate 5.  The collision resulted in dozens of broken bones and the amputation of one of Kevitt’s legs. The driver fled the scene.

Damien Kevitt. Image via ABC 7

In a press statement today celebrating the movement of AB 184, legislation that could lead to more arrests and prosecutions of hit and run drivers, the bill's sponsor referenced Kevitt's horrific experience as one more reason that California needs to change the way it views hit and run crashes.

“Damien Kevitt is just one of thousands hit-and-run victims who suffer life-threatening injuries annually,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the legislation's sponsor.  “Allowing the perpetrators to avoid prosecution just adds insult to these injuries.  AB 184 will allow victims and law enforcement to obtain justice.”

Currently, motorists who flee the scene of an accident can simply "run down the clock" to avoid any liability whatsoever.  If a motorist is not identified within three years, the motorist cannot be prosecuted.

The legislation, AB 184, provides an additional tool to law enforcement officers investigating hit-and-run offenses by extending the statute of limitations for such offenses to three years from the date of the offense, or one year after a possible suspect is identified by law enforcement, whichever is later.

The Legislature has passed similar changes to statutes of limitations for crimes with hard-to-identify perpetrators, such as clergy abuse.

Eric Bruins, Planning & Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, noted that bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to hit-and-run collisions that result in death or serious bodily injury. “It's hard for us to encourage people to bike and walk, when our streets are treated like the Wild West,” said Bruins.  “The L.A. County Bicycle Coalition commends Assemblyman Gatto for bringing attention to this issue and giving hit-and-run victims hope that their perpetrators might be brought to justice once identified.”

“This is a relatively easy and sensible fix to the law,” said Gatto.  “Presuming my bill becomes law, my hope is that people who would otherwise flee the scene of an accident realize that they can be prosecuted, no matter how long it takes."

For Kevitt, new and improved laws come too late, just as the city's bicycling anti-harassment ordinance came to late for those injured when Dr. Christopher Thompson decided to road-rage on some cyclists. However, if every bike crash helps lead to better laws, then eventually the city and state might finally treat traffic crime for what it really ongoing community health crisis.

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