When a tragic accident happens, we search for answers. It is normal to want someone to blame, and to want to do something in response. But sometimes an accident is just an accident. And harsh punishments will neither bring that person back, nor prevent a similar accident from happening again.
On Oct 5, 2012, Andrew Fox, a Virginia State Trooper, was killed by a driver while directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair. The driver of the car pleaded no contest to reckless driving, and received no jail time, $100 fine, and a 12 month suspended sentence.
Now the Virginia Legislature is considering, Senate Bill 293, Andrew’s Law, that would make it a Class 6 Felony to recklessly cause the death of a law enforcement officer, emergency responder, or highway worker. A class 6 felony would make the penalty from 1-5 years in jail, and mandatory $2500 fine, and a 1 year driver’s license suspension.
Virginia’s reckless driving laws are frequently cited as some of the toughest in the nation. You can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and $2500 in fines, as well as a 6 month license suspension for the Class 1 Misdemeanor. Motorists ROUTINELY spend some time in jail just for a reckless by speed offense – In some counties, judges really like to send a message.
Virginia’s Move Over & Slow Down law is already enforced. You must slow down or move to the left lane if possible, when there is a police or safety vehicle visible.
And there are vehicular manslaughter laws which can apply if the defendant shows “reckless disregard for human life”. This was not charged in this case, so the prosecutor or judge did not think it fit the statute.
And the fact is that the judge could have sentenced the defendant to up to a year in jail on reckless driving alone.
So why didn’t it happen this time?
The only explanation is that the judge chose not to sentence jail time. He must not have thought it was warranted, or served the interests of justice to do so.
This case is a tragedy. No one wants to see our public safety officers endangered in any way. They put their lives on the line for us every day.
And it is noble that this officer’s family wishes to honor his memory by doing something permanent in his name to make a difference. But this bill doesn’t further the cause of justice or public safety.