by Mitch Perry
On March 31, 2004, dance teacher Jennifer Porter was driving home when her car hit four young black children as they crossed North 22nd Street in Tampa. Bryant Wilkins, 13, and Durontae Caldwell, 3, were killed at the scene, and the two other boys were injured. Porter drove away to the safety of her parents' home. Five days later she finally turned herself in.
After Porter pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident involving death, prosecutors sought a three-year prison term. But she was sentenced in November 2005 to only house arrest and probation, leading to protests.
Today Attorney General Pam Bondi, along with state Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) and Representative Bryan Nelson (R-Orlando), announced their support for legislation that would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury from a 3rd degree felony to a 2nd degree felony, as well as making a deadly DUI more punitive.
“Floridians deserve to feel safe when enjoying their communities, and this legislative proposal will crack down on all hit-and-runs," stated Bondi. "I thank Senator Diaz de la Portilla and Representative Nelson for their leadership on the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, and I applaud Patty Cohen for her bravery in transforming her tragedy into action to protect others.”
Patty Cohen is the widow of cyclist Aaron Cohen. The driver who killed Cohen and left the scene received less than two years in jail.
"Aaron Cohen was a member of my community. The outrage that followed the light sentence his killer received brought attention to the punishment gap in sentencing laws, and we, along with his family and friends, decided to take action," stated Senator Diaz de la Portilla.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, three people were killed every week by a hit-and-run driver in 2012.
If passed, the legislation would:
Create a minimum mandatory sentence of four years for leaving the scene of an accident which results in death (with an allowance for downward departure by the court when mitigating factors exist.)
Increase existing minimum mandatory sentence from two to four years for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death with DUI.
Increase the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury from a 3rd degree felony to a 2nd degree felony.
Define "Vulnerable Road User" (VRU) and create a VRU enhancer in the criminal punishment code.
Require a three-year revocation of the offender's driver's license and, prior to reinstatement, a driver's education course on the rights of vulnerable road users.
In the fall of 2010 Jennifer Porter completed her three years of probation, which followed two years of house arrest.