Florida cracks down on hit and run drivers

FILE PHOTO: This surveillance video was released of the Mercedes SUV Clearwater police believe was involved in a fatal hit and run.

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) – The Tampa Bay area has recently seen a number of serious hit and run deaths. Two Illinois tourists were killed in Clearwater on October 18.
Police have now arrested Charles Winzenread in connection with the crime.

Alexander Torres, 11, was killed in Tampa Saturday night in another hit and run crash. Authorities are offering a reward to find the driver involved in that crash.

A 33-year-old construction worker was seriously injured in another hit and run crash in Hillsborough County on Friday. Authorities have arrested Edwin Rodriguez in connection with the case.

Defense attorney Kevin Hayslett says many people leave the scene of an accident out of panic and a variety of other reasons. “People just get nervous and overwhelmed with anxiety and they panic, the car is stolen, they have a suspended license, they’re intoxicated, or think they are intoxicated, they’ve got drugs in the car,” said Hayslett.

Attorney Kevin Hayslett talks to WFLA's Jeff Patterson about stronger hit and run laws.
Attorney Kevin Hayslett talks to WFLA’s Jeff Patterson about stronger hit and run laws.

Now because of changes in Florida’s hit and run laws, drivers who do leave the scene of an accident involving death or serious injury face up to 30 years in prison.

“You leave the scene and all of a sudden it goes from nothing, or maybe a traffic ticket to a first-degree felony with mandatory license suspension and mandatory state prison sentence,” said Hayslett.
At one time, that wasn’t the case.

Drivers involved in deadly hit and runs could leave, go home and sleep off the effects of alcohol and face few consequences if they were caught. “It used to be that they were entitled to withholding of adjudication, which means no felony conviction and no incarceration,” said Hayslett.

The Florida legislature has moved recently to end that loophole. “They’ve now made it that leaving the scene of an accident involving death is a first-degree felony and your exposure, the amount of time you can face in prison is actually greater for leaving the scene of an accident involving death than it is currently for a DUI Manslaughter,” said Hayslett.

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