Ohio bill would boost hit-and-run driver penalties

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House has passed a bill to increase penalties for drivers who don't stop after accidents resulting in death or serious injury to a person.

Under current law, motorists who leave accident scenes typically face a first-degree misdemeanor charge. If someone is seriously hurt, it increases to a fifth-degree felony with a possible one-year prison sentence.

If the accidents result in death, drivers could face up to three years in prison.

The measure approved Wednesday on an 86-1 vote would increase the penalty for death or serious injury to a second-degree felony, punishable by up to eight years in prison.

"The goal of House Bill 397 is to reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents within our communities by deterring drivers from fleeing the scene," said Rep. Brian Hill (R-Zanesville), who sponsored the legislation. "With this law, fleeing the scene of the accident would hurt an offending driver's chances of seeing a lesser charge and ensure that more drivers take responsibility for their actions."

"Brandon's Law" was named in honor of Brandon Pethtel, a 14-year-old boy from Rep. Hill's Zanesville-area district who died as a result of a hit-and-run accident. The motorist later admitted to being under the influence of alcohol and marijuana at the time of the accident.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

Legislative analysts describe the number of cases in which the penalty enhancements will come into play as "extremely small."


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