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Bills Seek to Protect Responders from Reckless Driving

January 31, 2014

By Kate Miller
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — “Andrew’s Law,” legislation that would punish as a felony reckless driving that seriously injures or kills an on-duty responder or highway worker, will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee next week.

The legislation, a combination of House Bill 1148 and Senate Bill 293, was introduced after Virginia state trooper Andrew Fox, 27, was run over and killed while directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair in 2012.

Under the proposed law, a reckless driver who seriously injures or kills an on-duty law-enforcement officer, emergency medical services responder, firefighter, or highway worker would be required to pay a minimum $2,500 fine in addition to having his or her driver’s license suspended for one year.  The court would also have the power to force the driver to pay a civil penalty of up to $10,000, and the proceeds would be contributed to the general fund.

HB1148 would charge the driver with a Class 6 felony, and SB293 has been amended to charge the driver with a Class 5 felony.

The driver of the Jeep Cherokee in the 2012 accident was Angelica C. Valencia, 27, of Doswell, Va. In 2013, Valencia received a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving and a suspended one-year jail sentence, in addition to paying a $1,000 fine.

Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-Tazewell) introduced SB293. The senator says Fox’s family approached him and explained to him that they felt Valencia’s misdemeanor charge and punishment were not sufficient.

“Their concern was that the law was not strong enough to rise to the level of the accident that had happened,” Puckett said.

Puckett says there were flashing lights and multiple on-duty law enforcement officers carrying illuminated baton flashlights at the intersection where Fox was directing traffic when he was struck by the car.

Fox was also wearing a reflective safety vest at the time, Puckett says.

“There was total disregard for what was going on at that intersection by the driver,” Puckett said.

Puckett says he has worked in cooperation with law enforcement agencies to introduce SB293, which passed the Senate Transportation and Courts of Justice committees unanimously.

The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association states that it supports SB293.

Puckett says he sent the bill to Delegate James W. Morefield (R-North Tazewell) after it was constructed and Morefield decided to introduce that bill in the House.

HB1148 has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Delegate Vivian Watts (D-Annandale), a member of the House Courts of Justice Committee and former Virginia Secretary of Transportation and Public Safety, says she would not oppose HB1148 as introduced but says she believes some of the language of the bill is too broadly stated.

“There are a lot of definitions of ‘reckless’ in the Code,” Watts said. “If you define that the driver should be aware of using extra caution when approaching the scene and he doesn’t use that extra caution, then I think you really increase the chances of the bill passing.”

Watts says HB1148 may help protect responders and highway workers from harm but says there also needs to be more focus on safety training and ways to promote more cautious driving around emergency scenes and areas where highway workers are.

“This bill may be part of the solution,” Watts said. “But it’s certainly only part of the solution.”

Watts says it is important to have laws that promote careful driving.

“I’m very much aware of what can happen in just 15-20 seconds of diverting your gaze,” Watts said.

Delegate Nick Rush (R-Christiansburg) introduced House Joint Resolution 722 in 2013 to celebrate Fox’s life.

“Known for his sense of humor, generous heart, and strong work ethic, Andrew Fox will be fondly remembered and greatly missed,” the resolution states.