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Nassau County DA Calls For Stiffer Penalties For Drivers With Suspended Licenses In Deadly, Serious Accidents

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Newly proposed penalties in New York state target drivers who are not supposed to be behind the wheel, but drive anyway in hopes that they won't be caught.

As CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported, Nassau County Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas wants the tougher penalties in the wake of the death of a young boy who was killed by a man allegedly driving with a suspended license.

"Today, we say enough," Singas said.

Singas is calling on the state legislature to make driving with a suspended or revoked license and killing someone with your car a D felony, punishable with up to seven years in prison. Driving with a suspended or revoked license and seriously injuring someone would be an E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison.

Currently, those drivers face an unclassified misdemeanor charge with a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail.

Nassau County DA Calls For Stiffer Penalties For Drivers With Suspended Licenses In Deadly, Serious Accidents

Thus, drivers take their chances and drive unlicensed, officials said. Last month, two women were injured when a driver who allegedly had a suspended license plowed into a Panera Bread restaurant in East Farmingdale, Long Island.

And back in December, 12-year-old Zachary Ranftle who was killed last December after prosecutors said Austin Soldano, 29, of Seaford allegedly hit the boy with his sport-utility vehicle in Valley Stream.

Soldano was driving with a suspended license, according to prosecutors.

Soldano claimed he didn't see the boy, and didn't know a judge had yanked his driving privileges after a driving while intoxicated arrest.

"I've never seen a person more remorseful or apologetic than I've seen Austin," his defense attorney, Robert Brunetti, said at the time.

But the bill's sponsors – who appeared at a news conference Thursday with victim Zachary's parents – said regrets are not enough.

"Whether you knew your license was suspended, or should have known your license was suspended, that's our responsibility," said New York State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola).

"We've got to make the penalties so tough that people will stop and think before they disobey the law," said New York State Assemblyman David McDonough (R-Merrick).

Zachary's heartbroken family agreed.

"If you're not supposed to be driving, you shouldn't be driving – under any circumstances," Zachary's uncle, Paul Rantfle, said in December.

Under current state law, driving with suspended license carries a penalty of only 180 days in prison. The new proposal makes it a felony, with prison time up to seven years.

Three quarters of suspended drivers admit they play the odds and drive anyway. The stiffer penalties would not apply to defendant Soldano, but lawmakers said they may deter someone else.

Lawmakers said they will bring the legislation to a vote in Albany this year.

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