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SC bill calls for harsher penalties for reckless vehicular homicide

By Fleming Smith, Post and Courie

Cases of reckless vehicular homicide are on the rise and one S.C. state senator is pushing for harsher consequences for those who kill while driving recklessly.

“I don’t want to criminalize negligence, but I do think it’s legitimate to criticize recklessness,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said.

Still, the bill has been stalled in committee for over a year. Statelawsaysrecklessvehicular homicide, a felony, is when a person drives with a reckless disregard for the safety of others leading to the death of a person within three years of a crash. In 2014, there were 26 cases of reckless vehicular homicide, according to court records. In 2018, there were 43 cases, a 65 percent increase.

What’s considered “reckless” canbeahighbartoreachinthe eyes of the law. In a 2010 case in Charleston, when an SUV plowed into two motorcyclists at a red light and killed them, the driver only faced a traffic citation.

No criminal charges were issued because authorities didn’t find evidence that the driver was under the influence or was otherwise willfully disregarding the safety of others. The driver told police his brakes had malfunctioned, but a test after the accident certified they were in working order.

“Two people’s lives were worth a speeding ticket and a slap on the wrist?” one of the victims’ mothers said at the time. “It’s just not fair.”

Massey said he isn’t surprised by the recent rise in cases. He’s been pushing a bill in the Statehouse to increase penalties for the crime. Under the proposal, anyone guilty of the crime would be fined between $5,000 and $15,000, an increase from the current $1,000 to $5,000 limit. Massey also proposed a maximum imprisonment of 15 years instead of the current 10 years.

The bill has stalled in committee in the Senate after facing opposition. Massey said he’s been trying to change the law for at least eight years and he couldn’t say why some senators have challenged it.

His quest started when the father and son of a woman killed by a man speeding through a stop sign visited his office. They protested the man’s punishment — a traffic ticket.

“I started looking at our laws and realized that we have a big hole, from a simple traffic ticket on one end and a penalty for felony DUI on the other,” Massey said.

He believes the penalties for reckless vehicular homicide should be in line with what someone guilty of a felony DUI resulting in death would receive.

“It has kind of stalled, but there’s been renewed interest,” Massey said.