Fla. aims to tighten laws for leaving scene of fatal accident

New law would increase mandatory minimum sentence

By Scott Johnson - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Deadly hit-and-run incidents are being called an epidemic problem in Florida, which some say is because of the way Florida law is set up -- you'll do less jail time if you leave the scene of an accident where someone is killed than if you stay.

It's hard for Jo-Lee Manning and her family to return to the spot where her 15-year-old daughter, Haley Smith (pictured, below), was killed in late November, particularly because whoever hit Haley hasn't been caught.

"It's hard not understanding how someone who could just leave her," said Manning. "To me, when they left the scene, it went from being an accident to murder."

Haley's death is one of many to plague the Jacksonville area in recent years and part of the reason why Attorney General Pam Bondi announced Tuesday that Florida is tightening its laws for leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

The new law would increase the mandatory minimum sentence from two years to four, the same sentence someone would get for DUI manslaughter.

"As a prosecutor, I was reading this and I was talking to everyone, and I could see flashbacks in my head of victims laying dead on the road where people had left the scene, fled the scene of an accident and just left them there to die. This is much-needed legislation," said Bondi.

Manning said she hopes changing the law will help.

"I'm hoping it will encourage people to stay," Manning said.

Haley's case is one of many still unsolved, but not every grieving family thinks the law does enough. Bryan Wrigley (pictured, left) was killed in St. Johns County in 2011 while riding his bike.

Channel 4 spoke with his mother, who lives in South Carolina. She thinks toughening the laws is only one step.

"I appreciate the concern the attorney general has in trying to make the law stiffer," she said, "but what somebody needs to do is put more manpower out there for local law enforcement to take these hit-and-runs down."

So far, there's no numbers on what the increased punishments would cost taxpayers to lock people up for longer times. The state's sheriff and police chief associations has endorsed the bill.

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