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Suffolk Co. D.A. Wants Tougher Laws For Hit-And-Run Cases

Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota speaks at a news conference Jan. 16, 2013 (credit: CBS 2)

Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota speaks at a news conference Jan. 16, 2013 (credit: CBS 2)

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - The Suffolk County District Attorney said Wednesday that it’s becoming a big problem throughout the county – people driving drunk or high on drugs, hitting someone and then fleeing the scene.

“It’s becoming an epidemic. People are not stopping. They won’t consider that a person may need help,” D.A. Thomas Spota said.

Now, he wants tougher laws to deal with the problem.

Spota talked about the case against Joseph Plummer, the 48-year-old accused of running down a man who was walking across the street to attend his 50th birthday party, killing him, then leaving the scene.

Because it took a few days to arrest Plummer, authorities cannot prove he was drunk or high on drugs. Now, if convicted he faces up to seven years in prison.

Spota urged the state legislature to make the laws tougher. So, if someone commits a hit-and-run, they could face up to 25 years behind bars.

Dennis Hughes lost his daughter Erika to a hit-and-run driver who wasn’t caught for months.

“It’s more than just my daughter, it’s for everybody out there that has suffered what we have suffered,” Hughes told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.

Police said Preston Mimms hid his truck and by the time authorities caught up with him, there no way to prove he’d been drunk, drugged or speeding. His plea bargain got him one-and-a-third to four years behind bars.

Protesters chanted “change our laws” at a news conference Wednesday.

In the weeks since the Hughes case, multiple Suffolk County drivers have been charged with hitting pedestrians or motorists and fleeing, and with schemes to cover those crimes.

Three indictments were unsealed Wednesday alone involving five more accused hit-and-run drivers who allegedly left their victims dead or critically injured.

“In my view, this is an epidemic that needs immediate legislative action,” said Spota.

Spota noted a controversial loophole in the law. If a driver hits and even kills someone then takes off and hides, they just face leaving the scene charges. That carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison, McLogan reported.

But if a driver has broken the law and is impaired and stops to help the victim or is apprehended at the scene, the charges can jump to manslaughter, which carries a penalty of five to 15 years in prison, or vehicular homicide which can get the driver locked up for eight-and-a-third to 25 years.

“It doesn’t make any sense how some people can be charged with vehicular manslaughter when they stop, but those who cause the very same accidents and kill people are getting away with it,” Spota told reporters.

The Hughes family and other victims in court Wednesday said they want penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal accident as stiff as being caught on the spot.

Some suspects said in court they fled because they had no driver’s license. Police said others have admitted leaving the scene to sober up.

Do you agree with Spota’s proposal? Sound off below.