NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) — Losing a loved one to a tragic accident like a hit and run is a lifetime sentence for families. That’s why one mother is determined to push for harsher punishment for offenders who leave the scene of a crash.
Stacy Bankston is the Executive Director for the Hit and Run Project. The organization worked closely with lawmakers in the state to successfully strengthen hit and run laws in Arkansas.
For Bankston, this is a personal mission. She lost her son to a hit and run accident back in 2015 in Missouri. That’s when she discovered that in many states hit and run drivers only faced a few years in jail, in some cases even less.
Governor Asa Hutchinson signed House Bill 1505 into law as Act 558 earlier this month.
The Hit and Run Project organization worked with lawmakers to add some definitions to this law and differentiate the punishment for accidents involving physical injury, to serious injury and death.
With this new law, accidents resulting in serious injuries or death will fall under a class B felony and offenders would face up 20 years. Previously they would face a class D felony and up to 6 years.
This week, Arkansas lawmakers will consider an amendment to the states’ hit and run traffic law. This all surrounds Senate Bill 668. Senator Trent Garner is the sponsor of the bill. He tells us after much debate he made some changes to the bill but it would ultimately give some protection to drivers who truly did not know they hit someone.
The Hit and Run Project tells it was initially against the bill because it would potentially reopen a loophole that would benefit hit and run drivers. Bankston says it added criminal intent to the act of knowingly and recklessly hitting someone before leaving the scene. It removed its opposition of Senate Bill 668 following some changes.
“You have to be careful where you place words in a bill because it can really shift what the bill intends…. to keep the word recklessly in it makes sense but to place the word recklessly in the proper position of this bill. Meaning that the act of leaving the scene is reckless… not the act of hitting the person,” said Doug Bankston, Board Member for the Hit and Run Project.
Garner tells us under his bill if there is enough evidence to prove the driver did not know they hit someone they would face the lesser class D felony.
Senate Bill 668 has been amended and heads to the senate for a vote.
The organization calls the stricter law in Arkansas a big win for families and victims of hit and run accidents.
“It’s also been a victory for me as a mother personally to know that what I’m doing is helping other people but also honoring my son at the same time,” said Stacey Bankston.
The organization’s goal is to also be a resource and support system to families and survivors of hit and run accidents, to educate and spread awareness.