Up until 2008, leaving the scene of a car or truck accident was a misdemeanor and could result in a fine between $20.00 and $2000.00 and a jail term not longer than one year. In 2006, a 14-year-old boy was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Owensboro, Kentucky. The driver was found and was sentenced to only seven months in jail.
In response to the boy's death, legislators introduced a new law, called "Eric's Law" in honor of the Owensboro victim, which makes leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or death a class D felony. The penalty for this class of felony is one to five years in jail and a fine up to $10,000, which can be reduced by $10 for every hour of community service performed. The law was enacted in 2008.
Numerous hit-and-run accidents have occurred in Kentucky since the law was put in place, including the 2008 accident that killed two young girls when the driver was trying to elude police during a traffic stop. That driver was caught and was eventually found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. One might wonder if the tougher hit-and-run penalties make a difference in deadly accidents that end in murder charges. But in the case of an involuntary manslaughter charge, or an accident that causes serious injury but not death, it can increase the defendant's jail time and fine significantly, maybe even enough to make the individual think twice about leaving the scene of an accident.
There are several reasons why someone might leave the scene of an accident. In the case of the two young girls that were killed near the University of Louisville, the driver was fleeing from police when the accident occurred. Some drivers may not want to see the damages or injuries they have caused. Others may be afraid of the legal consequences, so they flee in the hopes they do not get caught later. One reason may be how current penalties for leaving the scene of an accident compare to the penalties for drunk driving. Currently the penalty for killing someone while driving intoxicated is five to 10 years in jail. This penalty is much stiffer than the one to five years given for leaving the scene of the accident. This disparity may cause some individuals who have been drinking to flee the scene initially and turn themselves in later when they are sober. Prosecutor Ray Larson thinks the hit-and-run laws need to be even tougher to discourage people from leaving a car accident. A person staying at the scene and getting help versus leaving the scene could mean the difference between life and death for the injured person.