Law raises maximum penalty for hit and run drivers who kill, but not the minimum

Posted: July 12, 2012

AFTER Theresa Sautter learned that a bill raising the maximum penalty in a fatal hit-and-run case was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Corbett, she felt as if her efforts trying to toughen the law were for naught.

"We wasted four years and nothing really happened," she said Tuesday, calling the bill "another baby step."

House Bill 208, sponsored by Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, increases the maximum prison time from seven to 10 years in a fatal hit-and-run. It makes the crime a second-degree, rather than a third-degree, felony.

The bill takes effect in 60 days.

It does not change the mandatory-minimum sentence in a fatal hit-and-run. That remains one year behind bars.

Sautter wanted the Legislature to pass a bill increasing the mandatory-minimum sentence to five years. State Sen. Michael Stack, D-Northeast Phila., had introduced such a bill, but it didn't get far.

Reed's bill initially proposed increasing the mandatory minimum from one to three years in prison, but it faced resistance in the Senate, he said Tuesday.

What resulted was a compromise, Reed said.

He said he still supports raising the mandatory minimum, but for now, increasing the maximum penalty was a way to get the bill passed. Families of victims he has been in contact with felt this would "best accomplish their goal" of discouraging drivers from leaving the scene of an accident, he said. "They understand that a tragic accident has occurred and nothing will change that."

Sautter's daughter Marylee Otto was 15 when she was killed by hit-and-run driver Michelle Johnson, then a registered nurse in the Philadelphia Prison System. It occurred when the teen was crossing Rhawn Street at Lexington Avenue in the Northeast about 11 p.m. March 28, 2008.

Since then, Sautter has contacted elected leaders and passed out petitions trying to raise the mandatory-minimum sentence.

"What's a year [sentence] when they take somebody's life," she said. "It's a disgrace." n

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or shawj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @julieshawphilly.

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