The journey to the Bill Signing Ceremony for HB 889 is one we would have never imagined in the fall of 2005, but our involvement in the legal proceedings following the wreck made it apparent that the safety of our community was at risk. We learned a lot through very unfortunate circumstances, and to simply walk away would leave others to live our nightmare. We have always believed it is better to be careful, than sorry. All the elements of this event and afterward, pointed to possibilities to prevent and correct behaviors, that were not made available through due processes, thus resulting in an even greater tragedy.
We assumed this offense would reflect some sort of involuntary manslaughter charge, where the potential of jail time and fines could be prudently plea bargained for a suspended sentence and an extended suspension of license that would allow the driver proper time to think and learn from his mistakes. How surprised we were to find that in the NC drivers manual, even a conviction of manslaughter carried only a one year suspension of a driver’s license. Probably more alarming was the news that even after such a horrific event the driver would be allowed to continue driving until convicted. If the toxicology report had come back positive for drugs and alcohol, his license would have been suspended immediately. Despite the knowledge that he was the driver of the tangled mess of metal that was once his car, and there were two bodies in a funeral home, he was allowed to drive until his case was tried, then appealed (15 months after the wreck). We are so grateful no one else was killed in the meantime.
The charge leveled was misdemeanor death by vehicle. In NC, a felony charge requires evidence of impairment. Although in our case there was evidence of many violations on the path to the tree; due to an inability to rely on testimony of some of the witnesses (young students traumatized by the horrific event) it would’ve been a difficult task to bring manslaughter charges. Even with the evidence of speed, reliably calculated through reconstruction techniques, since there was no officer there to clock it by radar, even this was inadmissible in court. With an offender, backed by supporters with little or no remorse, all the elements were in place for incredible injustice. In the court room there was an air of “give us our medicine (a slap on the wrist) and let us go home.”Anything else would’ve been inconvenient. Then, against the evidence, they testified that it was our son’s fault for not wearing seat belts. A painful experience had become even more so for us, and it was made possible through due process of law. We could not bear to imagine this pain for anyone else. We committed to change.
We took our story to Raleigh, in hopes of creating a vehicular homicide law for unimpaired drivers. A drunk driver might at least have an excuse, but, as in our case, a sober driver who knowingly is deliberately negligent stands little punishment. Although not what we ultimately want for the community, with the help of our local representatives and through our unyielding persistence, we were able to get HB 889 passed into law. It does not put the higher levels of charge anywhere close to where they should be, but it does seal the bottom, where every driver (aggressive, habitual, unremorseful or not) who takes a life through his actions, faces recourse by giving the judge the discretion to place penalties on the driver based on what he thinks happened. We hope by giving the judge the ability to impose up to 60 days in prison and levy an unlimited fine on the offender, the gravity of these crimes can be realized, deterred, and prevented. We went to sleep on the night of August 27,2009 believing that now our world was somehow safer. We hope with your help and support, that our mission to save lives has just begun.
- Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties in Your State- 2010
- State Traffic and Speed Laws- 2010
- Revised Felony and Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle in NC- 2009
- Modify Felony Death by Vehicle Law in NC- 2009
- NC Citizen’s Guide to Structured Sentencing- 2009
- Criminal Vehicular Homicide Laws in Minn.- 2010
- Vehicular Homicide and Aggravated Vehicular Homicide in Tenn.- 2010
- Arizona Homicide by Vehicle Laws- 2007