Hit-and-run law loophole

Hit-and-run crash numbers go up after new law goes into effect

Hundreds of hit and run crashes happen every day in Florida, often leaving families hurting and demanding justice.

[WEB EXTRAS: Traffic crash reports database | Florida hit-and-run law ]

A new law was supposed to help change that-- increasing the penalties for hit and run drivers. But that new law only applies to fatal crashes, and News 6 uncovered a major loophole still exists and the number of crashes is actually up.

One of those family members is Elaine Taylor.  Her first-born and only son was killed by a hit and run driver on November 28, 2015.

"He was in activities in school, he was a Jones High School drum major," said Taylor.

The 40-year-old father of two was a barber.

"This is him at a church cutting kids' hair," Taylor said, showing Bell another photo.

But his life would come to tragic end just days after Thanksgiving while riding his bike home from the barber shop. Witnesses said a male driver in a red, convertible Mustang hit Barnes, got out, looked at him and then took off.

"Every day is hard," said Taylor. "You didn't even put in a phone call for help to say, 'I just hit somebody.'"

Unfortunately, Taylor is not alone. There were 94,099 hit and run crashes in Florida last year. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, one in four crashes is a hit and run. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows Florida is third in the country for fatal hit and runs, behind Louisiana and Arizona. Someone is killed almost every other day by a hit and run driver in the Sunshine State.

Criminal defense attorney Lyle Mazin of Orlando tells News 6 there could be a reason for the high statistics.

"In lots of times and lots of circumstances, the ramifications for being caught at the scene driving under the influence are extremely more harsh than it is to have left the scene and face the consequences," said Mazin.

Mazin said if convicted of a crash with DUI, state law requires a minimum-mandatory sentence of probation, a suspended license, fines and a criminal record-- none of which is mandatory with leaving the scene.

"By in no means am I encouraging people to break the law, but what the Florida legislature has done, by the way they've enacted these, is they've encouraged people to break the law," said Mazin.

In 2014, a new law was supposed to level the sentencing playing field, but that law only affected fatal hit and run crashes.

"It doesn't apply to leaving the scene with property damage, it doesn't apply to leaving the scene where there's personal injury and it doesn't apply to where there's great bodily injury," said Mazin.

Since that new law went into effect, hit and run crashes have only gone up.  News 6 compared crash numbers from the year before the the law went into effect to the year after, and crashes are up 9 percent, deaths are up 19 percent.

Mazin said he thinks part of the problem is a lack of public awareness. Drivers know they'll be in trouble for a DUI, but not necessarily for leaving the scene.

As for Taylor, she's left doing all she can to get justice for her son, handing out Crimeline flyers and praying someone will do the right thing.

"You know the story about how he died is on the back of this flyer," said Taylor. "I do wish that the people talking on the street, (I want them to know) it does say that you will remain anonymous.  Make a phone call and get those five thousand dollars and get the person that did this."

About the Author:

Lisa Bell has been in Central Florida since 2007, covering the big stories that impact our community. Lisa was promoted to News 6 evening news co-anchor in May 2014.