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EDITORIAL: Tighten laws on leaving the scene of a crash

EDITORIAL: Tighten laws on leaving the scene of a crash

Halfmoon fatal crash and sentence reveal loopholes in existing law
EDITORIAL: Tighten laws on leaving the scene of a crash
Maria Lentini dabs a tear during her sentencing Tuesday in Saratoga County Court.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

Who knows if Patrick Duff would have lived had he gotten help right away.

Maybe the coroner knows.

But certainly not Maria Lentini, the driver who struck him with her car on Route 9 in Halfmoon morning of Dec. 6, 2015, and left the scene.

Sure, she might have surmised that his injuries were serious enough to require immediate medical attention — given that a convenience store camera showed Lentini’s vehicle striking Duff and other evidence showed he was propelled into her windshield. 

Maybe he died instantly. Maybe he wouldn’t have survived until the ambulance arrived or survived the drive to the hospital. Someone in an official capacity probably has an idea about that. 

Maria Lentini apparently told a friend she’d killed someone. But she certainly didn’t know for sure if he was dead or alive. She didn’t know for sure what was happening to him in the hour and 15 minutes while she was calling and texting friends about the crash before her sister finally called 911.

Hitting Duff with her car certainly could be forgiven. The road was unlit. He was walking in her lane. He was wearing dark clothing. It was 2:30 in the morning. Who’s out walking at that hour?

But leaving the scene, and then waiting more than hour to report it, that’s unforgivable. Maybe she’s not a monster, as she claimed at her sentencing. But one could argue she’s something less of a human being for leaving Patrick Duff to die alone on that highway.

And for that, she only gets a year in jail.

This kind of thing happens way too often in New York — drivers hitting pedestrians or other vehicles with their cars and driving off, maybe hoping not to get caught at all. Maybe hoping police won’t catch up to them until they sober up so they can avoid a drunk driving arrest. Maybe just hoping to avoid the guilt of doing what they did, even if it was a completely unavoidable accident.

Situations like these are why state lawmakers need to pass legislation they failed to advance during the last session calling for stricter penalties for leaving the scene of an accident.

At least one bill would close the loophole that allows drunk and impaired drivers to escape with a lesser penalty by making it so a driver would be charged with an equally severe crime, whether they leave the scene or not. Maybe more drivers would stick around and help or call 911 if they knew they couldn’t get a lesser penalty for leaving.

Pending legislation also would allocate money for a system that would distribute information about the vehicle and driver through news stations, highway signs and rest-stop alerts so maybe hit-and-run drivers would be caught sooner. And it would create a statewide educational campaign to alert drivers to the tougher penalties for leaving the scene.

People have an obligation to help those they injure and to report these incidents immediately.

If their conscience won’t compel them, the Legislature needs to.

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