Supporters rallied today as lawmakers considered law to close hit-run loophole

Last updated: June 30. 2014 7:00PM - 3057 Views
By - rdupuis@timesleader.com

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Kevin’s Law Timeline

• Dec. 21, 2012: Thomas W. Letteer Jr. strikes Kevin Miller as the boy is crossing North Street with his parents and two brothers after leaving an evening Christmas party. Kevin dies of his injuries, while police seek the then-unknown driver.

• Dec. 23: Investigators interview Letteer at his home. He tells them he had not been in Wilkes-Barre on Dec. 21, and never goes to Wilkes-Barre, police said. Miller is buried the same day.

• Jan. 4, 2013: Police seize a red 1999 Pontiac Grand Am found on Mack Street near Letteer’s Plains Township home. Investigators note a newer front headlight and light hood damage.

• April 4, 2013: Letteer is arrested, but continues to maintain his innocence. Defense attorneys Paul Galante and Allyson Kacmarski later seek to have their client’s statements to investigators thrown out, along with alleged evidence recovered from the Pontiac, Facebook postings and cellphone records. They also seek a change of venue.

• Feb. 27, 2014: Luzerne County Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. denies the defense’s requests.

• March 10: Letteer pleads guilty to accidents involving death or personal injury, as fleeing the scene of a fatal accident is called under state law.

• May 1: Sklarosky sentences Letteer to spend two to five years in state prison for his crime. Members of the Miller family join prosecutors and local lawmakers in the Luzerne County Courthouse rotunda after sentencing to call for closing the loophole.

• June 3: State House Transportation Committee approves an amendment to Senate Bill 1312, proposed by Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, to increase the minimum penalty for fleeing the scene of a fatal accident to three years.

• June 27: Senate Bill 1312 passes the House by 199-2. Voting against are Philadelphia Democrat Jose P. Miranda and Delaware County Democrat Greg Vitali.

• June 30: State Senate expected to vote on the bill.

HARRISBURG —Kevin’s Law is law.

By a vote of 49-1, legislation to close Pennsylvania’s hit-and-run “loophole” — under which leaving the scene of a fatal crash carries a lesser minimum sentence than a DUI homicide — passed the state senate today.

The change takes its unofficial name from Kevin Miller, a Dallas five-year-old who died in December 2012 after being struck by Thomas W. Letteer, of Plains Township, who left the scene of the crash on North Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, cast the only dissenting vote.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law at 6 tonight in a private ceremony attended by family members.

There was a sea of yellow in the state Senate gallery this afternoon, as relatives and friends of Kevin Miller, sporting commemorative t-shirts, awaited passage of the legislation.

The bill passed the state house by a 199-2 vote on Friday, and was anticipated to be voted on by the state Senate today.

Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and several members of her present and past staff — assistant district attorneys Mamie Phillips and Sam Sanguedolce and former assistant district attorney Alexis Falvello — are present as well.

“We are here in support of the family,” Salavantis said.

Currently, the charge carries only a one year minimum jail sentence, but Senate Bill 1312 will put the penalty on par with the three-year sentence for a DUI homicide.

More than 60 people packed into a chartered bus and several cars this morning as supporters of “Kevin’s Law” headed to Harrisburg, including Kevin’s parents, Caroline and Stephen.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Twp., acknowledged the group a short time ago as proceedings got underway.

While Kevin Miller’s death was not the only local case fuelling the desire for change, the issue took on renewed prominence after Letteer’s sentencing in May, when Miller’s family joined prosecutors and lawmakers — including state Baker, state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township and state Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca — at a press conference calling on state legislators to change the law.

Carroll, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, tacked the proposed change onto Senate Bill 1312, which was introduced to amend the state’s Highway Code on a number of other issues, including vehicle lengths and transportation of modular housing.

Carroll noted his amendment also deals with changing the highway code, thus is considered the same subject matter as the original content of the bill.

Today’s Senate session began at 1 p.m., but with many issues before lawmakers today as the state budget deadline looms, it is unclear at what time lawmakers will consider Kevin’s Law. The chamber recessed at 1:35 for a Republican caucus.

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