CHICAGO - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed a new law that immediately gives prosecutors the authority they need to go after hit and run drivers. Senate Bill 1943 makes a law eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecuting drivers involved in hit and run accidents effective immediately. The original legislation, House Bill 885 sponsored by Rep. Susana A. Mendoza (D-Chicago) and Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Lombard) and signed by Gov. Blagojevich in August, gave investigators and prosecutors more time to find and bring to justice drivers who leave the scene of an accident. But, that law wasn’t to go into effect until January 1st, 2006.
The 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. SB 1943 was sponsored by Rep. Mendoza and Sen. Carole Pankau (R-Roselle).
“We shouldn’t wait another minute to hold drivers accountable for hit and run accidents like the one that took Patrick’s young life. Those who flee from responsibility after an accident should not be able to get off the hook just because enough time has passed,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Now, we can give law enforcement all the time they need to solve hit-and-runs and bring justice to the people who are hurt as a result of careless drivers.”
The Patrick Leahy Law eliminates the current three-year statute of limitation for prosecution of cases involving drivers who leave the scene of an accident and the current one and a half year statute of limitation for failing to give information or aid following a car crash that results in death, personal injury or damage to an attended vehicle. The Governor’s signature on SB 1943 makes the law effective immediately, rather than on January 1, 2006, which was the effective date of the original law.
“Thanks to this quick action, families whose cases would have run out before January 2006 can now have their cases heard. Removing the statute of limitations on these crimes will allow that families are not victimized twice – once by the tragedy involving their loved ones, and a second one by our own laws,” said Rep. Mendoza. “I am extremely grateful to Governor Blagojevich for understanding the need to move the effective date of this legislation forward, and I also thank him on behalf of the family of Patrick Leahy.”
“In August, the Governor signed the ‘Patrick Leahy Law’ to eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting drivers involved in hit-and-run accidents. Named after the six-year-old hit-and-run victim in Winfield, the new law was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2006,” Sen. Pankau said. “However, we learned there are several pending hit-and-run cases that would have slipped though the cracks before then, so we passed Senate Bill 1943 to make sure that those cases will continue and, we hope, be resolved.”
Patrick Leahy was riding his bicycle with his 9-year-old brother and several friends near downtown Winfield on August 17, 1999, when he 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.