CHICAGO -- Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that will eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting drivers involved in hit and run accidents. Sponsored by Rep. Susana A. Mendoza (D-Chicago) and Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Lombard), House Bill 885 gives investigators and prosecutors more time to find and bring to justice drivers who leave the scene of an accident. The new law was inspired by the hit and run death of six-year old Patrick Leahy in suburban Winfield, Illinois, whose killer was not found before the legal statute of limitation ran out.
“Patrick’s tragic death was the fault of some careless driver who managed to hide from responsibility long enough to pass the deadline for prosecution. That should never happen again. With this new law, we’re giving law enforcement as much time as they need to find people who try to run away from the pain and damage their reckless driving causes. Drivers should know that if you’re involved in a crash, take responsibility for your actions. You won’t be able to run out the clock anymore,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
House Bill 885 eliminates the current three-year statute of limitation for prosecution of cases involving drivers who leave the scene of an accident or fail to give information or aid following a car crash that results in death, personal injury or damage to an attended vehicle.
“The enactment of this new law signifies a commitment towards ensuring that more criminals are brought to justice,” Mendoza said. “Too many innocent lives are ruined by irresponsible drivers who cause horrible hit-and-run accidents and then consciously decide to flee the scene or hide. It is imperative that we make it clear to perpetrators that neither the law nor the passage of time will allow them to escape prosecution for their actions.”
“We want the message heard loud and clear,” said Sen. Cronin. “Your responsibilities as a driver don’t end when you get a driver’s license and registration. That’s only the beginning. You’re obligated to pay the price for the people you hurt.”
HB 885, The Patrick Leahy Law, is named after a six-year-old boy who, while riding his bicycle with his 9-year-old brother and several friends near downtown Winfield on August 17, 1999, was struck and killed by a truck, possibly from a rental company. Despite an intense investigation that included posting thousands of fliers and hypnotizing a witness, Winfield Police and the DuPage County Major Crimes Task Force have never found the male driver.
“I want to thank the Governor and the members of the General Assembly for their diligence in turning into law HB 885, the Patrick Leahy Bill, that eliminates the statutory time frame that can now hold hit and run drivers liable for their wrongs,” said Debbie Leahy. “My six-year-old son, Patrick, never knew that his killer would not be held liable for his actions. Now, with his bill enacted into law, investigations and trial sentencing can lead to closure for families.”
House Bill 885 is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2006.