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Closing hit-and-run loophole will be ‘high priority,’ pols say

January 6, 2020 Scott Enman
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Brooklyn politicians are making a renewed push to pass a bill that would close a legal loophole and punish hit-and-run drivers more severely following an incident that left a 70-year-old woman dead on Friday in Canarsie.

Under current law, there is a more serious penalty for drunk driving than for leaving the scene of a crash. This uneven punishment incentivizes motorists who are under the influence to flee in order to risk lesser punishment, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“People are making a calculated decision that it’s in their best interest to flee, and we have to close that loophole,” said Gonzalez at a press conference on Monday.

The Hit-and-Run Prevention Act, first introduced in 2017 by Assemblymember Joe Lentol, has stalled for several years. The bill would raise the punishment for leaving the scene to be equal to vehicular manslaughter. In other words, if a motorist kills someone while under the influence, the punishment would be the equivalent of that given to someone who kills a person and flees the scene.

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It is currently sponsored by Assemblymembers Lentol and Steven Cymbrowitz in the State Assembly and by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes in the State Senate. The bill would close the loophole, implement equal punishment so there’s no incentive to flee, create a $1 million public awareness campaign about leaving the scene and create a hit-and-run notification system similar to an Amber Alert.

Borough President Eric Adams addresses the media on Monday afternoon with state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Marco Conner from Transportation Alternatives. Photo: Scott Enman/Brooklyn Eagle

“The beginning of the legislative session is this Wednesday, and you can be damn sure that this will be high on our priority list to do everything in our power to see that this loophole gets closed and we finally hold people accountable for their actions,” Gounardes said.

Maria Lorente was fatally struck while crossing Flatlands Avenue at East 78th Street on Friday afternoon. The motorist, who was operating a dark colored sedan, hit her with the front of the car and fled the scene.

She was transported to Brookdale Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. There have not been any arrests, but Gonzalez said the NYPD has already made “a lot of progress” and that he was confident the culprit would be apprehended.

“The tragic death of Maria Lorente should serve as a wake-up call to legislators in Albany,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “We must take aggressive steps to crack down on hit-and-run drivers. I was proud to champion legislation when I served in the State Senate increasing penalties for drivers leaving the scene of an incident without notifying the proper authorities, and I am looking forward to … [getting] the Hit-and-Run Prevention Act across the finish line.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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