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Group Wants Legislature To Close Vehicular Manslaughter Loophole

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.

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