Senate approves change to state's hit-and-run law
SALEM — The Oregon Senate unanimously passed a bill Feb. 26 that requires drivers in hit-and-run crashes to return to the scene once they learn there was a collision.
The bill, passed unanimously in the House Feb. 14, was spurred by the deaths of two young girls who were struck and killed by a vehicle while playing in a pile of leaves in front of their house in Forest Grove.
The parents of those girls, Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, and her sister, Abigail Robinson, 11, testified in favor of the bill in both the House and Senate judiciary committees in February.
"In making this change, someone in the future already trying to survive their perfect storm will not be faced with what we have had to go through over the last four years, years of reliving our tragedy," Susan Dieter-Robinson, Anna's mother and Abigail's stepmother, testified Feb. 6. "If the law changes, our girls will have had a small piece of making that happen."
Forest Grove resident Cinthya Garcia, then 19, drove into the pile of leaves at the prompting of her boyfriend and brother, who were passengers in the vehicle, according to court documents.
Garcia knew she hit something, but she didn't know what it was until later that day. About five minutes after the girls were hit, one of the passengers rode his bike back to the scene and talked with the girls' father, Tom Robinson, without disclosing that he had witnessed the collision.
A Washington County jury found Garcia guilty of two counts of hit and run for failure to identify herself as a driver in a deadly crash. At sentencing, Susan Dieter-Robinson asked that Garcia receive no jail time. Garcia was sentenced to three years' probation and 250 hours of community service, but she appealed.
Several months later, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned Garcia's conviction for hit and run. The justices cited a loophole in the hit-and-run law whereby drivers who find out that they hit something and caused injury and death — even only minutes after they left the scene — are not required to return to provide aid or notify authorities.
The Court of Appeals decision prompted representatives Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) and Andy Olson (R-Albany) to propose the bill, which they called "Anna and Abigail's Law."
The proposed revisions would require motorists who collide with something to stop and investigate what they struck. The bill also would require a motorist who has left a scene to notify authorities once they realize they have caused injury, death or property damage.
"We have an opportunity to take care of a situation that had to go through courts to bring out that the way the statute as written the driver was relieved of any duty of reporting that incident," said Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The mother testified that "from Day 1 that did she not want to see the young driver, who was 19 years old, to be incarcerated, but wanted to use this as a teachable and learnable moment," Prozanski said. "I would say the strength and courage shown in front of the committee was very appreciated by the committee."
Bracken McKey, a deputy district attorney in Washington County who prosecuted Garcia, testified earlier this month that "April and Abigail's Law" would help the "most vulnerable, the cyclists, the jogger, the small child who's chasing a ball and maybe the next little girl in a leaf pile."
The bill now needs Gov. Kate Brown's signature to become law.