Rockville resident Adiva Sotzsky lost her husband in 2005 when an 18-wheeler struck his motorcycle on the highway. The truck’s driver was deemed responsible for the crash and was cited for speeding, negligence and failure to avoid a collision. He was issued a handful of traffic citations and the matter was considered closed.
But beginning in October, fatal vehicle crashes like the one involving Mrs. Sotzsky’s husband, Harry, will more likely result in criminal charges.
Legislation signed this week by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley creates a misdemeanor charge of criminally negligent homicide by motor vehicle that is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
“Every year we’ve been accumulating people and unfortunate families who have been really adversely affected,” said Mrs. Sotzsky, who has lobbied for the law along with other victims’ families since her husband’s death. “While it’s not going to change the lives of the people I’ve met, it will certainly make our roads safer by holding people accountable.”
Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, Montgomery Democrat and bill sponsor, said the new law provides a middle ground for prosecutors. Previously, they had to prove a driver displayed gross negligence in order to charge someone with manslaughter by motor vehicle.
“I estimate that going back about 15 years there have probably been 300 cases that could have been prosecuted under [the new] standard, but they didn’t qualify for the felony standard and as a result got traffic tickets,” Mr. Simmons said.
Prosecutors have said the standard was difficult to meet and as a result they were unable to prosecute many cases.
“Tragically, many of our residents mourn the loss of their loved ones from automobile crashes that could have been prevented,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks. “It is important to have some measure of justice that fits the crime.”
Bills similar to the one that passed this year have stalled in the House Judiciary Committee for the last seven years. Mrs. Sotzsky and Mr. Simmons credit a recent reorganization of the House Judiciary Committee and intervention from House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, with helping to push the legislation through.
Mrs. Sotzsky attended the governor’s bill signing ceremony Tuesday.
“There is peace of mind that out of this horrific thing there is something that makes this society a little bit better,” she said.