ANNAPOLIS – Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, says he would love to know what goes through the mind of hit-and-run offenders who drive away from the law.
Most are drunk, Bronrott said he thinks, and avoid a felony drunken- driving charge by fleeing the scene. The drivers must be weighing that charge against the more minor, misdemeanor charge of hit and run, he said.
Hit-and-run carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Bronrott wants the penalties doubled, and he introduced a bill Thursday to make hit-and-run a felony carrying a maximum 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
“This bill is aimed at fixing an injustice in Maryland laws,” said Bronrott, head of a blue-ribbon panel to study pedestrian safety in Montgomery County. “It seems to me that such a despicable act should not be treated as a mere misdemeanor.”
Of 16 pedestrians killed by drivers in Montgomery County last year, six were killed by drivers who fled the scene, said Officer Joyce Utter, Montgomery County Police spokeswoman.
Troubled by the number of pedestrian accidents in his county, Bronrott joined the parents of hit-and-run victim Rajiv S. Vaidya during a news conference in December to announce Montgomery County’s effort to curb aggressive driving.
On a Friday afternoon in December, Vaidya, 26, was struck as he stood on a median in Silver Spring by a driver who only stopped to fix his car’s bumper after hitting him and then drove away, Bronrott said. Vaidya, an aspiring writer, died three days later.
Pedro Gutierrez of Alexandria, Va., was later charged with leaving the scene of a fatal collision – a misdemeanor.
The current hit-and-run misdemeanor charge is “a little bit like getting Al Capone for tax evasion,” said Douglas F. Gansler, Montgomery County state’s attorney. Hit-and-run offenders, Gansler said, are often aggressive drivers who are “like a loaded gun in the highway.”
Bronrott’s bill, Gansler said, would be more effective if paired with a bill establishing the crime of homicide by aggressive driving. The bill, introduced by Sen. Jean W. Roesser, R-Montgomery, would make the crime a misdemeanor with a maximum three years in jail and $5,000 fine.
Gansler said the homicide by aggressive driving bill was “torpedoed” last year in the House Judiciary Committee by its chairman, Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s.
Bronrott hopes his bill, assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, would deter drivers from fleeing the scene of an accident. “I am convinced that, if we can reclassify this crime as a felony and double the penalties,” Bronrott said. “We will be able to send a much needed message to the citizens of our state that we’re not going to tolerate hit-and- run crashes anymore.” – 30 – CNS-2-8-01