'Rempfer Bill' proposes stiffer penalties

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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

the accident.

"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

a crime."

"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."

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