Bill Would Increase Punishment for Fatal Hit-and-Runs

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POSTED: Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 9:45am

UPDATED: Monday, March 4, 2013 - 2:16pm

People leave the scene of an accident most often because they lack insurance, a valid driver's license or they've been drinking.

If some dies as a result of that wreck - A new bill in the Texas Senate would make the penalty for fleeing equal to that of intoxication manslaughter.

Alana Rocha, with our news partner - The Texas Tribune - looks at what helped inspire the proposed legislation.

        Hit and run crashes happen everyday in Texas

in just six of the more populated counties in the state, more than 40,000 hit and run accidents occurred in 2011 and 2012 combined - according to the TX DOT.

In the eyes of many in law enforcement , the penalty for failure to stop and render air - a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison - isn't enough for drivers to do the right thing.

"my  heart's broken. It's such a huge void."

In May of 2011, Laurie Griffin lost her daughter - 30 year old

Courtney Griffin - in a hit and run accident in Austin.

On a short walk home from a friend's place, a car struck and killed Courtney.

We know Gabrielle Nestande was behind the wheel of that car.

"I decided that when I saw my car, I figured this must have been a deer."

Nestande told a jury last month she didn't stick around find out what cracked her windshield.

The former legislative aid admitted she had gone out that right to celebrate their 82nd Legislature and drank as many as 5 beers.

When something hit her car - Nestande testified - she fled scared - to her boyfriend's apartment nearby.

"who's responsibility is it that Courtney Griffin died? Mine. "

Facinga handful of charges including failure to stop and render aid - the jury up to 10 years in prison.

But the first time convicted felon walked away with much less.

"we recommend that the sentence be suspended and the defendant be placed on community supervision."

"Now it's. We're gonna really fight for the legislation that we've started so that no other family will have to go through what we've have gone through."

Sen.. Kirk Watson and Wendy Davis  co-authored a bill that would make the charge of failure to stop and render aid a second degree felony when the wreck results in death - equal to that of intoxication manslaughter - and punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Watson has widespread support in the law enforcement community starting in his own district.

Austin Police chief art Acevedo's Department  worker Courtney Griffin's case and says the sentence the jury handed Gabrielle Nestande signaled more has to be done.

"The message that was sent to me was that we have a permissive attitude, and I don't think that plays well, and I don't that we have a permissive attitude, and I don't think that plays week, and I don't think that's in the best interest of this community."

Acevedo says APD worked 12 fatal hit and run accidents last year alone.

"I think that once people realize that if they do flee, regardless of what happened in the crash, there's going to be a huge, significant penalty for them that people will stay behind and will save lies."

Both Acevedo and Watson have met with Griffin parents about the legislation they say they're working to pass in her memory.

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