No Time Limit on Justice for Hit-and-Run Victims
On Jan. 1, 2010, 49-year-old Joo Lee was crossing Montrose Avenue when he was struck by an SUV and thrown 70 feet down the road. Lee was crossing the street to pick up his daughter from a friend’s house. Despite a concerted effort by local authorities, a $20,000 reward from the City of Glendale and County of Los Angeles, and an outpouring of the support from the community, including the Crescenta Valley Weekly, the driver of the vehicle that struck Joo Lee was never brought to justice. Three years later, on Jan. 1, 2013, the statute of limitations for prosecuting that driver ran out, eliminating the ability to hold the driver criminally responsible.
While the reprehensible behavior of Joo Lee’s assailant will go unpunished, there are many other hit-and-run victims whose statute of limitations has not run out yet. In June 2011, a 13-year-old girl was crossing Ramsdell Avenue near Foothill Boulevard when a dark colored SUV hit her. The young girl was transported to the hospital. Under current law, her assailant will be free of all criminal liability as of June 2014, just over a year from now.
These examples are just two of the more than 20,000 hit-and-run incidents a year in Los Angeles County. Of those, more than 4,000 lead to seriously injury or death. That’s more than 10 hit-and-runs per day in Los Angeles County that leave a helpless victim lying in the street. Allowing the perpetrators to avoid prosecution just adds insult to these injuries.
To address this epidemic of hit-and-runs, I’ve introduced AB 184, which provides an additional tool to law enforcement officers investigating hit-and-run offenses. This legislation extends the statute of limitations for hit-and-run offenses that lead to serious-bodily injury or death to three years from the date of the offense, or one year after a possible suspect is identified by law enforcement, whichever is later.
Accidents happen, but leaving an injured person in the streets is simply unacceptable. The perpetrators of these crimes should not be allowed to simply “run out the clock” to avoid prosecution. This is a relatively easy and sensible fix to the law that will put people who would otherwise flee the scene of an accident on notice; they will be brought to justice, no matter how long it takes.
If you have ideas for how to make our communities safer, help bring justice to victims of violent crime, or give our police the tools they need to get criminals off the streets, I want to hear from you. Feel free to contact me at Assemblymember.Gatto@asm.ca.gov or call my district office at (818) 558-3043.
Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, the communities of La Crescenta and Montrose, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood. www.asm.ca.gov/gatto