A Southern California lawmaker is vowing to take action against what he says is an epidemic of hit-and-run accidents. Robert Kovacik reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014.
Hit-and-run crashes in Southern California are considered an "epidemic," according to Assemblyman Mike Gatto.
The LAPD reports that 20,000 hit-and-run crashes are recorded annually, and according to state data, 4,000 of those result in injury or death.
Gatto has now introduced a bill, AB 1532, that would enforce tougher penalties on hit-and-run drivers, including automatic revocation of their driver’s license.
The bill comes just a week after 24-year-old veterinary student Robert Ramage was killed in a hit-and-run collision in Northridge. The driver in that incident has not yet been found.
"For someone to run and leave him like that, it was awful," said Chenanah Bowen, a passerby who came to the aid of Ramage after the accident.
Under the new bill, a motorist would lose their license automatically if they chose to flee the scene of a crash, regardless of whether the victim’s injuries were minor or major.
"The only way to know if you hurt someone is to stop. The only way to get someone medical help is to stop," Gatto said in a statement." Allowing drivers who don't stop to keep their license, adds insult to their victim's injuries."
Bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to hit-and-run crashes, according to Eric Bruins of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
Earlier this month, a 60-year-old jogging near Loyola Marymount University was struck by a hit-and-run driver. In late December, a 23-year-old crossing a street in the Pacific Palisades was also killed in a hit-and-run collision.
"AB 1532 will give victims of hit-and-runs solace, knowing that cowards who drive recklessly, and purposefully avoid responsibility for their actions, are no longer driving the streets," Gatto said.
Ramage was driving home from his job at Mission Animal Hospital when he struck the hit-and-run driver, who then left his pick-up truck and fled the scene on foot.
"I hope (the bill) helps. There’s family like Robert's who are in a lot of pain, and someone leaving a scene like that just makes the pain even worse," Mission Animal Hospital owner William O'Leary said.
Current law includes license revocation for crashes that result in serious bodily injury or death, but there are few consequences for offenders whose victims only have minor injuries, according to a press release by Gatto.
Gatto introduced a bill last year, AB 184, which extended the statute of limitations on hit-and-runs that result in death or bodily injury.
Gatto's 78-year-old father was found shot to death in his SIlver Lake home on Nov. 13. A suspect has not been found. Earlier this month, the city offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the suspect's arrest and conviction.