Suffolk County legislators unanimously approved Tuesday a bill that allows authorities to seize vehicles used by convicted hit-and-run drivers to buttress a New York State proposal to increase sentencing for such crimes.
The county legislation would also allow authorities to seize vehicles owned by people other than the driver when the car or truck is used to flee the scene of a crash that left a victim seriously injured or dead if the owner knowingly tried to cover-up the incident.
“Too many lives have been lost, and while we can’t change what has happened, we can do everything within our power to prevent these tragedies from happening again,” said Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), chair of the public safety committee.
Authorities similarly seize vehicles owned by felony drunken-driving suspects. Browning cited Suffolk County police statistics showing that there were 5,555 hit-and-run crashes last year, 11 of which resulted in fatalities.
Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota urged the legislature to pass the bill before the vote. He also urged lawmakers to lobby the state Assembly to pass a bill that would increase the sentences for hit-and-run convicts—a proposal that has already passed the state Senate.
“Drivers who leave the scene of an accident and are arrested later, face lesser criminal charges than they would if they were caught at the scene—especially if the offender was driving drunk or while under the influence of drugs,” Spota said.
The state bill would increase the prison sentence to 7 years to 15 years from the current 2 1/3 to 7 year maximum sentence for those convicted at trial of a hit-and-run crash.
Spota and Browning both cited the case of repeat-felon Preston Mimms, 48, of Mastic, who was sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years in January after pleading guilty to killing 24-year-old Erika Hughes while she was walking to her Shirley home on July, 29 2011.
After he was apprehended nine months after the fatality, investigators found that Mimms was driving with a suspended license but were unable to prove if he was intoxicated or speeding at the time.
The hit-and-run vehicle seizure law now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for signing and would take effect immediately.