Gov. Brian Kemp has signed legislation that would stiffen the penalties for drivers involved in hit-and-run accidents that leave victims battling life-threatening injuries.
Senate Bill 1, known as C.J.’s Law, was signed Friday into law after passing the General Assembly. The law, which goes into effect July 1, states that a driver who causes an accident resulting in serious bodily harm and leaves the scene of that crash would face a felony charge and, if convicted, be sentenced to one to 10 years in prison. The existing law only addresses the penalties for drivers who commit serious injury by vehicle while driving recklessly or under the influence.
C.J.’s Law is named after Charlie Jones III who was walking along Piedmont Road in January 2009 near Rio Montana Drive in Cobb County when he was hit by a vehicle. Marcus Coleman, Jones’ cousin, said the 23-year-old was initially left injured and unconscious in the roadway when he was fatally hit by a second driver who remained at the scene of the collision. Cobb police have never found the driver of the first vehicle.
“We don’t feel C.J.’s Law will help our family, but we want it to be as impactful as it can to help the families who are victims of this cowardice crime,” Coleman said.
Coleman began lobbying legislators to push for the legislation when he learned that if Cobb authorities had been able to locate the first driver and if he were convicted, the punishment would have only been a “slap on the wrist.”
He reached out to State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas of Atlanta, because he was already familiar with her from his work in community activism in her district. Thomas said she began to get the bigger picture when she attended an annual vigil Jones’ mother held at the crash site to honor her son.
Now that the legislation has been passed, Thomas said she hopes to return to the General Assembly in 2020 to find funding for educational initiatives informing drivers of the stiffer penalties.
“Hopefully, the public will understand the responsibility of driving a car and not using your vehicle as a tool or weapon in destroying lives,” she said.
State Sen. Elena Parent of Atlanta echoed her colleague’s sentiments, adding drivers have the responsibility to do the right thing if they hit someone.
“It’s just so shocking for me from a human perspective that someone would mow somebody down and just keep going,” she said.
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