Should There be Stricter Penalties for Hit-and-Run Accidents in Wichita?

Families who have lost loved ones in Kansas hit-and-run accidents are pressing for tougher laws to penalize offenders, and hopefully make these incidents less common.

In 2011, Kansas adopted new laws pertaining to hit-and-run accidents. Hit-and-run became a felony with “presumptive jail-time,” which meant a hit-and-run driver found guilty would be presumed to be deserving of incarceration unless proven otherwise.

Despite this change, which made penalties stricter, many families do not believe the laws punishing hit-and-run drivers are strict enough or impose sufficient penalties on motorists who leave the scene of collisions.

If a motorist leaves a crash site, this can result in delays in victims getting help. Sometimes, the consequences of these delays are fatal or the victim suffers more permanent injury. When a motorist leaves the scene of a crash, it can also impact an investigation into the accident. For example, if police don’t find the driver until days or weeks or months later, it will no longer be possible to test the driver’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of the collision.

Hit-and-run accidents not only impact criminal cases, but can also affect the rights of injured victims and families of people killed in crashes. Victims should normally be able to make a claim for compensation from a driver who caused an accident, but will be unable to do so if a driver isn’t found after a hit-and-run.

Typically, in these cases, victims’ primary avenue for compensation is uninsured motorist coverage, which they obtain from their own insurer.

KAKE recently published an article on several families who have lost loved ones due to accidents which involved hit-and-run drivers.  One such accident in 2014 was fatal. The family of the man who was killed was angry it took two years for police to arrest the driver. They were even angrier when the driver wasn’t charged with killing the crash victim, but instead only faced penalties for driving away from the scene of a crash causing injury.

The district attorney’s office didn’t charge the driver with killing someone because the DA’s office concluded they did not have sufficient evidence to make a case for homicide.  While driving away from the scene of an injury accident is a felony offense, the driver was sentenced to just 30 days in jail. He actually ended up serving only two days before he was put on work-release for the remainder of his 30-day sentence. The family of the victim was understandably outraged.

The brother of the victim said, “I feel the sentence was a slap on the wrist. I still don’t think that was necessarily a good enough sentence for hiding for two years and not coming forward.”

This family wasn’t the only one angry about the penalties imposed on a hit-and-run driver. Another mother whose son was killed while he was walking along the road was told the driver of the deadly hit-and-run would likely get probation only and serve no jail time. The mother lamented this sentence was “not fair.”

The DA’s office indicates there is nothing they can do when there is no evidence a crime was committed, because there is nothing to charge someone with except hit-and-run if the driver leaves the scene but didn’t actually do anything else wrong.  However, as KAKE indicates, families believe stricter hit-and-run penalties would be better because at least imposing a stricter sentence could be more of a deterrent.