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'Rempfer Bill' proposes stiffer penalties
OLYMPIA _ The parents of Dane Rempfer the teen who was
killed during a hit-and-run accident in 1998 are urging lawmakers to
impose heftier penalties against people who flee the scene of an accident.
Jerry and Charlotte Rempfer have been campaigning for the
measure since last February when they realized that the man who killed their
son would only serve about six months in jail.
"It's a difficult process for the Rempfers to go through, and
unfortunately, we don't often know about these loopholes until there is a
tragedy," said Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish.
Now, Senate Bill 6071 is steadily making its way through this
session's legislative process. As proposed, the new law would place stiffer
punishments on hit-and-run drivers who leave the scene and therefore avoid
an immediate determination on whether they were impaired at the time of
"We need to get the message out to all drivers that they need to be
responsible when they get behind the wheel of the car," Charlotte
Rempfer said. "They need to be alert and that
it needs your attention when you're driving."
The amended bill would make fleeing the scene a level nine Class
B felony which would increase the maximum sentence to 14 years, with
a minimum of 31 months. Rossi originally proposed a maximum
7.5-year sentence, but he and other members of the Senate Judiciary
Committee agreed that a higher penalty was necessary.
The current law weighs injury and death the same as a Class C
felony with a sentence of up to five years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines.
"They wanted to get the sentence higher so it eliminated the problem
of people leaving the scene that were impaired," Charlotte Rempfer
said. "They clearly felt that leaving the scene of a crime was very
serious, because you can leave a person dying and they wanted to make the
message clear that if you hit someone, you stop to give them aid."
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, in 1996
there were 28 fatal hit-and-run collisions which were 28 too many, said
Susan Sergojan, the executive director of MADD Washington State.
"A large percentage of people who commit felony hit and runs are
driving drunk and that's why they leave," she said. "And we think the bill
would save lives. If you increase the penalty for leaving the scene, we hope
they won't want to leave the scene."
Earlier this week the proposed bill, also known as the "Rempfer Bill,"
was directed to the Rules Committee where it will either move to the Senate
floor or to Ways and Means Committee. It is uncertain, however, to tell if
this year's short 60-day session can accommodate the hearing of the bill.
"I am going to try and get it done this year because there's no time
better than the present," Rossi said.
"We don't need to have an incentive for someone to leave the scene of
"I don't think it's going to fall by the wayside _ ever," added
Charlotte Rempfer. "It will be addressed one way or the other."