ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Traffic safety advocates and family members of people killed by reckless drivers are calling the legislature to close what they are calling a loophole in the state’s vehicular manslaughter laws.

As Derek Valcourt explains, it’s a loophole that often allows negligent drivers who kill people on the roads to escape conviction.

Connor Kohl, 15, was struck and killed by a reckless speeding driver in 2008.  Kohl’s father calls that driver’s punishment unfair.

“He did not go to court.  We never saw him.  He killed our son and just paid a fine, $1,200,” said his father.

Harry Sotzsky was killed in 2004 by a speeding truck driver who was looking down at a handheld device.  That driver was fined a few hundred dollars, which Sotzsky’s widow says is unfair.

“I think perhaps maybe even spending a week or two in a local jail facility might have gotten the point across that what he was doing and the way he was driving was a serious problem.  It was extremely irresponsible,” said Adiva Sotzsky.

Both families are now advocating for a change in Maryland’s vehicular manslaughter laws.  The current law is one of only a few in the country that requires proving a driver acted with gross negligence.  It’s a high standard and often difficult for prosecutors to prove in court.  That’s why AAA Mid-Atlantic is asking lawmakers to pass House Bill 363, which creates a misdemeanor for drivers who kill people while operating a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner.  It would be punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and up to three years in jail.

“If you choose to drive outrageously behind the wheel and you kill somebody, you can go to jail.  That provides a level of fairness to the families and there are many in Maryland who have lost a loved one and just watched the  perpetrators pay a traffic fine.  That’s outrageous,” said Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The bill has been defeated for the last five years, but this year it passed unanimously in the House.  Supporters fear the bill may get stuck in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and never make it to the Senate floor for a full vote. 

Supporters are asking Marylanders to call their senators and urge them to support House Bill 363.

Comments (6)
  1. Iva Bolden says:

    My daughter Frances Bolden was killed in 2001. Even though the 19 yr old was driving without a license, no insurance and a questionablle vechicle, she was fined only $500.00. Gross negligence could not be proven. Which quite frankly we never understood. I strongly support this law and think a required drug /alcohol test should be done with any accident involvong a death.

  2. JLP45 says:

    WHAT WOULD BE GROSS NEGLIIGENCE. I view IVA’S close to 2nd degree murder. People in government never want to solve problems they want to perpetuate the system and continue the illusion they care and are doing something.

  3. Claudia says:

    My brother (56) died a month ago as a result of injuries sustained in the Havre de Grace school bus accident in Sept. He was behind the car that crossed the center line causing the accident. He never came home – he was hospitalized for five months. The woman who caused the accident had glanced down to grab her cell phone………

  4. Mai_Tai says:

    My sister was killed in 2005 by a teen driver doing 75 in a 45mph zone. He got off with a $500 fine; that was the maximum penalty the judge could hand down. She was dead, leaving behind a now motherless daughter and a distraught family. They couldn’t prove negligence (i.e. racing another driver) and he wans’t high or drunk. Of course, there were no distracted driving laws on the books at that time. The kid’s parent just wrote a $500 check and he walked away. I witnessed a trial the same day where a man was fined 3x that much for having open alcohol in a vehicle and lying to the cops about his identity. Wake up Maryland! Why is speeding not gross negligence in itself, what further proof does there need to be.

  5. Harry says:

    Indeed, wake up Maryland. I was at the senate proceedings yesterday and even if the bill passed it would still be too lenient. People drive recklessly as a matter of course. If you watch cars at any intersection and take note of who’s on their cell phone it will most likely be 50% or more. That is reckless driving and yes those people should be fined. What it really comes down to is being human to one another, unfortunately once inside the car we tend to become far less human, far less egalitarian, hyper competitive and aggressive. Problem will be fixed when walking and cycling are considered reasonable forms of transportation. When the oil dries up.

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