Local 6 investigates hit-and-run law in Florida
Justin McWilliams Act increases penalty for leaving scene of accident with death
The number of people killed in Florida in hit-and-run accidents this year has already hit double digits. Local 6 has found a law that is in place to crackdown on the crime with a stiff penalty, but it's rarely happening.
Kristin Flaniken's husband of 29 years was killed last year by a driver accused of leaving the scene. Forest Flaniken, Jr. was riding his bike near Avalan Park when a driver crashed into him.
The man accused of hitting him, Anthony Moffa, initially faced multiple charges, including leaving the scene of an accident, but as part of a plea agreement that charge was dropped, and Moffa was sentenced to just over two years.
"My first reaction was, 'Is that all life is worth?'" Kristin Flaniken said to Local 6's Louis Bolden.
Kim Montes with the Florida Highway Patrol said hit-and-run accidents in Florida have hit epidemic proportions.
"We have seen a steady rise over the last probably eight to ten years," Montes said.
In Central Florida alone, troopers work 20 to 25 hit-and-run accidents per day. In August, there were 848 hit-and-runs in Central Florida, and statewide this year, 59 people have been killed by drivers who left the scene.
Montes said there is not enough of a deterrent.
"We're just not seeing a long sentence given to people for leaving the scene of a crash," she said.
Local 6 pulled the numbers and found in 2012, the average sentence for someone convicted of leaving the scene of an accident involving death was just under 8 years.
"My blood boils when I hear that," Jamie McWilliams said.
McWilliams' son, Justin, was killed by a driver who left the scene in 2002. After it happened, she worked for four years to change state law.
The Justin McWilliams Act increased the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident with death to a maximum of 30 years, but McWilliams believes the law is being underutilized.
"In essence, we need to start tightening up the sentences and the only way to do that is to make it worse for them if they leave, than if they were to stay, " she said.
Flaniken said it won't bring her husband back, but tougher sentences could help deter another driver from leaving the scene.
"I would have liked to have seen somewhat of a longer sentence," said Flaniken.
While they are not the norm, there are cases when drivers are given more severe sentences. Like Eric Wydra, who faced multiple charges for killing one person and injuring another. He was recently sentenced to 20 years.