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Texas Hit And Run Penalties Could Increase
The search continues for a driver accused of hitting and killing a man Sunday night. Austin Police said a driver in a red pickup truck hit the man near I-35 and Hwy 183. A second vehicle also hit the victim. That driver called police about 30 minutes after the accident.
This is the third fatal pedestrian death this year and there have been more than 700 hit and run accidents in Austin in 2013.
Police believe it's a growing trend
The Austin Police Department told us people usually leave the scene of accidents for three reasons: not having a driver's license, no insurance or driving while intoxicated. The penalty for leaving is the same if you hurt someone or if you kill them. Now, lawmakers expect to change that law this session.
Our cameras were inside the fifth day of a high profile hit and run fatality trial in Austin on Monday. The lead investigator in the case testified that after seeing bar tabs and video of the defendant, Gabrielle Nestande, drinking, he would change his initial police report.
"The factors that she had been drinking or under the influence," Sgt. Michael McCarter said after being asked what additional factors he would include.
Failing to stop and render aid is a third degree felony, punishable by up to ten years in jail. That penalty does not change if you bump a person with your car or if you kill them. The victim's family in the Nestande case said that law must change.
"Get that increased to a second degree felony and so we're working now with some state legislators," the victim’s father, Bart Griffin, said about the current hit and run law. "We got a lot of support right now and we're going to see that this happens the next session."
"I was surprised this hasn't got attention before now," said State Senator Kirk Watson, "It's almost like it's a loophole that it's the same penalty regardless. I don't think that loophole ought to exist."
Watson has already drafted a bill that would add a decade of possible jail time if the victim dies.
Republican State Representative Allen Fletcher agrees. The retired Houston police officer filed a similar bill that would increase the penalty to a second degree felony if the driver kills the victim.
"I have issue with the fact that it's actually advantageous to leave someone on the side of the road based on their own self-interest," Rep. Fletcher explained.
The jury in the Nestande trial has yet to reach a verdict. She is expected to take the stand this week.
Both lawmakers said they're confident the stiffer penalty will become law this session.
By Katherine Stolp