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Victims' Families Demand Stiffer Sentences For Hit-And-Run Killers In New York

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- The families of four victims killed in hit-and-run crashes in Suffolk County called on Albany on Tuesday to enact tougher sentences for drivers who flee the scene.

The families, accompanied by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and state senators, demanded that the maximum sentence be increased from seven to 15 years for hit-and-run drivers involved in fatal crashes, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported.

Spota said the state's current hit-and-run laws are too weak and there's no incentive to stay at the scene, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

Victims' Families Demand Stiffer Sentences For Hit-And-Run Killers In New York

"Because that person has the opportunity to get to their house, sober up, get rid of their car or hide their car or deny that they were the drivers of their vehicles," Spota said.

There have been 58 hit-and-run cases in the past three years in Suffolk alone.

At a news conference Tuesday, tears flowed from the eyes of the daughter of Lindsay Benjamin, the daughter of Karen Benjamin, a nurse, wife and mother of two -- was struck while jogging in Mount Sinai in June 2013 by a hit-and-run driver and later died.

The driver, Thomas Costa, fled admitted to fleeing the scene and hiding his bloody car, which was discovered two weeks later.

Last week, a judge nixed the plea deal, ruling Costa failed to accept responsibility for the hit-and-run and lied about his prior drug convictions. Still, there is no way that drunken or drugged driving can be proven in the case and thus, Costa could still serve as few as 2 1/3 years in prison.

The driver who struck and killed Erika Hughes could serve even less time. Hughes, a 24-year-old mother, was killed by a hit-and-run driver near her Mastic home in July 2011. Driver Preston Mimms was sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.

Victims' Families Demand Stiffer Sentences For Hit-And-Run Killers In New York

Erika Hughes, a 24-year-old mother, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking down the street near her Mastic home in July 2011. The driver was sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison.

It took police nine months to find the evidence to get Mimms, who was driving with a suspended license, indicted.

Since there was no way to prove a cover-up, nor that Mimms was drunk, on drugs or speeding at the time of the hit-and-run, he was charged with a non-violent felony – leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it.

"It is very unfair," said the victim's sister, Tina Hughes. "A year and a quarter -- traffic violations get more than that."

"Most decent people get out of the car if they hit a dog or a cat," her father, Dennis Hughes, told reporters, including 1010 WINS' Mona Rivera. "These people are so callous or so drunk or so high, it wasn't even a consideration. They don't think that the guy who hit my daughter even slowed down.

"It's a horrible act, and it deserves the maximum punish you possibly could give," he said.

Joseph Plummer was sentenced to just 2 1/3 to 7 in prison in July 2013 in the death hit-and-run of Scott Wayte as he left a celebration for his own 50th birthday in December 2012.

"This is a man that has left a human being in a road, dead, and he will be walking amongst us in another year and a half," said Wayte's niece, Melanie Stafford.

And the parents of Brittney Walsh visit their only daughter at her gravesite. She was killed when her car was rear-ended Montauk Highway in Lindenhurst in 2012.

In November, 34-year-old Michael Grasing was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, but acquitted of the top charge of second-degree murder by depraved indifference.

Prosecutors said Grasing had a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit and was speeding when he rear-ended the 18-year-old Walsh's car, causing it to tumble off the road.

Walsh's family said Grasing tried to flee, but eventually crashed into poles and buildings. They believe the jurors' hands were tied.

Grasing was sentenced to a minimum of 10 2/3 and a maximum of 32 years in prison on Monday, 1010 WINS' Rivera reported.

"I want him to get what he deserves," said Brittney's father, Thomas Walsh.

Families want a maximum sentence of 15 years for those convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash. The Walshes also want aggravated vehicular homicide to be treated as a violent Class B felony with a flat sentence of 25 years.

"The punishment should fit the crime, and yet I think it's fair to say it's is falling on deaf ears," Thomas Walsh said.

The bill will be reintroduced this session, with the families issuing challenges to the governor, Senate and Assembly to "have the guts to pass this no-brainer legislation," CBS2's McLogan reported.

State Sen. John J. Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said the Senate passed legislation three times to increase penalties for drivers who flee the scenes of serious accidents, but those bills have consistently failed in the state Assembly.

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