Under the current statute, California Vehicle Code Section 20001, the maximum penalty for a hit-and-run where someone was hurt or killed is four years in prison, and/or a fine of between one thousand to ten thousand dollars.
The maximum sentence for a felony vehicular manslaughter in California is 6 years in state prison, under Penal Code 192 (c ).
California’s Vehicle Code 23153 says with a felony charge of DUI causing injury, you face up to ten years in prison.
Proponents of AB582, also known as “Gavin’s Law”, say the way California’s penal code is set up right now, it encourages people to run away from the scene of a crash.
“We just have to have some justice here. We need some justice,” said Rita Gladding, whose son is the inspiration for Gavin’s Law.
Rita Gladding isn’t just fighting for her son; she’s fighting for justice for all hit-and-run victims.
“Like everyone else, I would say to myself, if I’d heard about that – ‘oh my gosh, how could someone do that, what do you mean they left the scene?’ And now to know that Gavin was alive when they left the scene, it compounds it even more,” said Rita Gladding.
One in five accidents in Fresno are hit-and-runs.
“Do the right thing and it’ll be a little easier on you than if you do the wrong thing. That turns the law 180 degrees, and we think, honors Gavin,” said Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a proponent of Gavin’s Law.
Take, for instance, a hit-and-run on Blackstone Avenue, just South of Shields, from back in October 2018.
The woman who was hit is okay; she had a few broken bones.
The driver of the early-2000’s blue Ford Explorer that hit her is still on the run.
But if that driver is caught now, the most prison time a judge could hand down is 4 years, plus a fine of between one thousand and ten thousand dollars.
If Gavin’s Law goes through, the penalty for a hit-and-run resulting in great bodily injury is 4-6 years in prison, plus that same 1-to-10 thousand-dollar fine.
The same week as that hit-and-run, 30-year-old Eduardo Delatorre turned himself in after hitting this man on Ventura Avenue and driving off.
Police say Delatorre didn’t have a license, so if he’d stayed, he could’ve been charged with vehicular manslaughter – a six-year maximum charge.
But instead, since he drove off, he’s now behind bars for felony hit-and-run – a maximum sentence of just four years.
Gavin’s Law would put that maximum back what it would have been with vehicular manslaughter: up to 6 years.
“We’ve got to close that gap: You’re not going to get away with it if you run. And if you stay, you’re being a human being, you’re doing the right thing, but you’re not going to get an additional four or eight years in prison,” said Assemblymember Patterson.
Now let’s look at a case where someone was caught early enough to test for DUI.
Matthew Chenot has been charged for the hit-and-run death of 70-year-old Ram Bhatia on Friant Road in February.
Officers caught him about 15 miles away from where they found Bhatia, and also found video of him drinking alcohol before the crash.
Since law enforcement had all that evidence against him, Chenot is charged with hit-and-run, vehicular manslaughter, and DUI.
But cases like that, where the driver is found so quickly, are rare.
“Somebody else has got to benefit from this. They can’t go through this again,” said Rita Gladding.
The petition for Gavin’s Law already has over eight thousand signatures.
Its authors are presenting the bill to the Public Safety Committee Tuesday; if it gets approved there, it moves up to an appropriations committee.