New law makes tougher penalties for hit-and-run drivers - FOX 13 News

New law makes tougher penalties for hit-and-run drivers

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Early Labor Day morning, a hit-and-run driver left two long-time cyclists, Rob Lemon and his girlfriend Hillary Michilak, to die in the street. Under a new bill, that driver could soon face stiffer penalties if convicted.

"Nobody should be left on the side of the road. What you should do is if something like that happens is stop your car and try to help them. Call 911, and do what's right," says Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (R-Hialeah.)

It's called The Aaron Cohen Act, named after a triathlete and father of two, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Miami last year. That driver was sentenced to less than a year in jail.

"The hit-and-run situation is really bad, obviously," says Fran Cane, owner of Flying Fish Bikes in south Tampa.

"Cyclists I think for some reason, they probably believe they can get away with it, because there's no one to chase them down or anything like that. And they just say they hit a deer," says Cane, who knows what it is like to be hit.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would send hit-and-run drivers to jail for at least three years -- mandatory. If the crash seriously hurts someone, the driver would get seven years behind bars, and ten years if someone is killed. The bill would also have the driver's license suspended for a minimum of three years.

Many drivers are never found, but when they are, sentencing is light. Supporters say that's got to change.

"It's got to be very painful to the family. So we figure we have to put something in place that won't just be a slap on the hand, that people will think about it twice before leaving the scene of an accident," says Gonzalez.

Florida has been one of the deadliest states in the nation for cyclists and walkers for years, and the numbers are staggering. Last year alone, there were about 70,000 hit-and-run crashes injuring 17,000 people and killing 166, many of them cyclists.

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