ANNAPOLIS – Rajiv Vaidya died three days after a car veered onto the median where he was waiting to cross East West Highway in Silver Spring in December 2000.
The driver who hit him stopped only to pick up some parts from his car.
Vaidya’s parents, Drs. Shailendra and Vanitha Vaidya, did not know until last week that the man sentenced to 18 months in jail for the misdemeanor offense of fleeing the accident that killed their son was released Jan. 1, after only seven months.
The Vaidyas were some of the family members of hit-and-run victims to speak Tuesday in favor of a bill to increase the penalty for hit-and-run drivers who inflict serious injury or death from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“We believe it’s time to make the punishment match the severity of the offense,” said Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The bill, with 50 sponsors, replaces similar legislation rejected by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last year because it did not distinguish between punishment inflicting minor and serious injury, Bronrott said.
Lawmakers wanted to ensure drivers who inflict only minor injuries would face only misdemeanor charges.
This year’s bill would maintain current Maryland law for hit-and-run drivers who inflict only minor injuries, a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of not more than $3,000 or up to one year in jail.
Hit-and-run drivers who inflict “serious bodily injury” would be charged with a felony, punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to five years in jail.
Drivers who flee a fatal accident could be fined up to $10,000 or sentenced to 10 years in jail.
“The reason we came back is because our 26-year-old son was a stickler for justice all his life,” said Vaidya’s mother, her voice cracking, “and I think it’s about time he has it done . . . We need to provide justice for the lives of these innocent children and their families.”
Monique Glover held a doll and other toys that belonged to her 7-year-old daughter, Brejae Danesha Harris, who was killed on her way to school in December by a hit-and-run driver in Baltimore.
The driver, Debra A. Chafin, 45, was apprehended by police two hours later with a blood-alcohol content of .27.
While most lawmakers agreed minor-injury accidents should be misdemeanors, they disagreed on whether causing death should bring a greater punishment. There should be only one punishment for fleeing a deadly or serious-injury accident, said Delegate Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll. Representatives from Montgomery and Baltimore County Police Departments came to support the bill, which is also supported by the Maryland State Police.