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Forest Grove parents seek changes to hit-and-run law

The parents of Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, and Abigail Robinson, 11, killed in 2013 while playing in a pile of leaves in their front yard, ask lawmakers to close loophole that led the Oregon Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of the woman who hit the girls.

PARIS ACHEN/PORTLAND TRIBUNE - Left to right, Tom Robinson and Susan Dieter-Robinson, parents of two little girls killed in a hit-in-run crash while they were playing in the leaves at their home in Forest Grove Oct. 20, 2013. To their right is Pam Olson, wife of Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, a co-sponsor of a bill to change the state's hit-and-run law.SALEM — Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, and her sister Abigail Robinson, 11, were killed in a hit-in-run crash while playing in a pile of leaves in front of their Forest Grove home in 2013.

On Tuesday, their parents asked state lawmakers to close a loophole in state law that led the Oregon Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of the woman who hit the girls and left the scene.

"In making this change, someone in the future already trying to survive their perfect storm will not be faced with what we have had to go through over the last four years, years of reliving our tragedy," said Susan Dieter-Robinson, Anna's mother and Abigail's stepmother. "If the law changes, our girls will have had a small piece of making that happen."

JAIME VALDEZ/PORTLAND TRIBUNE - Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, chairman of the House Judiciary CommitteeReps. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, and Andy Olson, R-Albany, co-sponsored a bill this year to modify the state's hit-and-run law to require motorists who collide with something to stop and investigate what they struck. The bill also would require a motorist who has left a scene to notify authorities once they realize they had caused an injury or death.

Forest Grove resident Cinthya Garcia, then 19, drove into a pile of leaves at the edge of a residential Forest Grove street at the prompting of her boyfriend and brother, who were passengers in the vehicle, according to court documents. It is believed that the young girls, who had been playing in the leaves, may have been hiding from view.

Garcia later said knew that she had hit something, but she didn't know what it was until later that day. About five minutes after the girls were hit, one of the passengers rode his bike back to the scene.

"He engaged with my husband who was frantic and in the process of calling 911," Susan Dieter-Robinson said. "He rode his bike back home not even a half a block from the scene and told the driver and the other passenger what had happened. They hit two small children."

After finding out, they drove to Walmart and went and bought ice cream, Dieter-Robinson said.

"The next day, they washed the car, attempting to get rid of the evidence that may have still been there," she said. "With a tip from a neighbor, the driver and the passengers were questioned by the police a couple of days later, and the truth was revealed."

A Washington County jury found Garcia guilty of two counts of hit and run for failure to identify herself as a driver in a deadly crash. At sentencing, Dieter-Robinson asked that Garcia receive no jail time. She was sentenced to three years' probation and 250 hours' community service. Several months later, she appealed the conviction.

The Court of Appeals decision to overturn Garcia's conviction of hit and run in May prompted the lawmakers to propose "Anna and Abigail's Law."

The court identified a gap in the existing hit-and-run when it issued its opinion, said Bracken McKey, a prosecutor in Washington County who prosecuted Garcia.

"Think about Oregon's hit and run law as the Court of Appeals has now defined it. You can be less than a block away and moments later in time when you know you have run over and seriously injured another person, you have zero responsibility to help them, no responsibility to call 911, no responsibility to take steps that might save a child's life or at the very least lesson the emotional burden on a grieving family," McKey said.

"April and Abigail's Law" would help the "most vulnerable, the cyclists, the jogger, the small child who's chasing a ball and maybe the next little girl in a leaf pile," he said.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
email: pachen@portlandtribune.com
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