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Senate approves change to hit-and-run law

The bill, spurred by the death of two little girls in Forest Grove in 2013, requires drivers who learn they hit something after the collision to report to authorities.

PARIS ACHEN/CAPITAL BUREAU - Left to right, Tom and Susan Robinson, parents of Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, and Abigail Robinson, 11. The two girls were killed while playing in a pile of leaves in front of their Forest Grove home in 2013. To the right, Pam Olson, wife of state Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany.SALEM — The Oregon Senate unanimously passed a bill Monday, Feb. 26, that requires drivers in hit-and-run crashes to return to the scene once they learn there was a collision.

The bill, passed unanimously in the House Feb. 14, was spurred by the deaths of two young girls who were struck and killed by a vehicle while playing in a pile of leaves in the street in front of their house in Forest Grove.

The parents of Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, and her sister, Abigail Robinson, 11, testified in favor of the bill in both the House and Senate judiciary committees earlier this month.

"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," Susan Dieter-Robinson, Anna's mother and Abigail's stepmother, testified Feb. 6. "If the law changes, our girls will have had a small piece of making that happen."

Forest Grove resident Cinthya Garcia, then 19, drove into the pile of leaves at the prompting of her boyfriend and brother, who were passengers in the vehicle, according to court documents.

She 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 and talked with the girls' father, Tom Robinson, without disclosing that he had witnessed the collision.

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, Susan Dieter-Robinson asked that Garcia receive no jail time. Garcia was sentenced to three years' probation and 250 hours' community service.

Several months later, however, Garcia appealed the ruling. The Oregon Court of Appeals overturned Garcia's conviction of hit and run in May.

In their opinion, the justices identified a loophole in the existing hit-and-run law. Drivers who find that they hit something and caused injury or death, even only minutes after they left the scene, are not required to return to provide aid or notify authorities, the court ruled.

The Court of Appeals decision prompted Reps. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, and Andy Olson, R-Albany, to propose "Anna and Abigail's Law."

The bill requires motorists who hit something to stop and investigate what they struck. The bill requires a motorist who leaves a scene to notify authorities once they realize they have caused injury, death or property damage.

"We have an opportunity to take care of a situation that had to go through courts to bring out that the way the statue as written the driver was relieved of any duty of reporting that incident," said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The mother testified that "from Day 1 that she did not want to see the young driver, who was 19 years old, to be incarcerated but wanted to use this as a teachable and learnable moment. I would say the strength and courage shown in front of the committee was very appreciated by the committee," Prozanski said.

The bill still needs Gov. Kate Brown's signature to become law.

Bracken McKey, a prosecutor in Washington County who prosecuted Garcia, testified earlier this month that "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."

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