Parents of Hit and Run Drivers
If a child commits a felony, what does the law dictate is the parents responsibility? You might guess, to turn them in. But that isn't necessarily true. Laws are written making accessory to a crime difficult for prosecutors to prove in court, and even more so, when a parent is involved. Besides, society seems to grudgingly expect a parent to protect their child, even from the law.
When a driver flees from a hit and run crash, many will turn to their parents for help. And whether the advice the parents give is good, bad, or even borderline, criminal, rarely are the parents held accountable. Laws in every state require a driver involved in a collision, especially when someone is hurt, to stop. Most do. But some won't, turning an accident into a crime.
On August 11th, 2004, 19 year old Ryan Bishop was driving to his mothers house in Merrillville, Indiana, when he suddenly saw something enter the road and slammed on his brakes. Police reported later that 25 year old Sherneca Kirksey, with a blood alcohol content of .236 and traces of marijuana in her system, had grown angry at a party and left when she was told she had had too much to drink. At a little after 2:30 am, Sherneca stepped into Taft Street, and was struck by Bishop's '93 Ford Tempo. Bishop got out of his car, and saw a woman laying in the street. He yelled to see if she was ok, but got no response. Panicked, he phoned his mother on his cell phone and asked her to call 911. 911 was called, and medical and law enforcement officials soon arrived. The story should have ended there, a sad and tragic accident that regretfully, cost a young woman her life.
But the story was not that simple. According to news reporter Deborah Laverty of the Northwest Indiana Times, it was not Ryan's mother that called 911. In fact, according to the report, Ryan's mother told her son to come home. She later told police she could not understand her hysterical son, and fearing for his safety, told him it was ok and advised him to come home immediately. This was a mother instructing her son to commit the felony of leaving the scene of an accident. Ryan did as his mother advised, and headed home. It could be argued that any mother, genetically engineered to protect her child, would have done the same, assuming she did not understand exactly what was happening; only hearing the fear in her sons voice. Even at this point, a prosecutor would have a difficult time proving to a judge or jury that this mother "knowingly" became an accessor to a crime. But according to police reports, when Ryan arrived at the house, the mother examined the car damage and hide the car in the garage the following morning. This act, suddenly shifts the mother's motivation from protection to the concealment of a crime, known in may states as obstruction to justice. Ryan has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident and faces the possibility of a 2 to 6 year sentence.To date, no charges have been filed against the mother.
Thankfully, many parents, specifically mothers, acknowledge immediately their children's responsibility to society. While their instinct may be to protect their child, they also realize the victim is another mother's child and they dread the thought it could be their child laying in the street, rather than hiding in the back bedroom.
In California, a mother and boyfriend convinced 21 year old April Pedro to turn herself in after she struck a man in Millbrae, California; in another case where no charges would have been filed if she had not fled.
In September 2002, police responded to a hit and run crime scene in Kansas City, where a driver had struck a pedestrian at a bus stop and then fled the scene on foot. 49 year old Steven Miles, whom friends described as an honest, quiet man who lived alone with his cats and books, would die two hours later. According to KCTV channel 5, police were stunned, when a lady drove up to the accident scene later, with the hit and run driver, her 16 year old son, who had fallen asleep at the wheel, causing the crash. People at the scene told local media it was a pretty brave thing for the mother to help her son face what he had done. As one student nurse, who had witnessed the crash stated, "It was an accident, and they didn't mean to do it, but it was very big that she brought him back. I give her credit for that." We also commend this mother, but it says little for our society, when we are all amazed at the mother who does the right thing.
In Pierce County,Washington, 68 year old Edward Wegman was putting gas in his wife's disabled car along Sumner Tapps Highway one February 2005 evening, when he was struck and killed by a hit and run driver. Days later and miles away, a mother watched news reports of the tragedy and suddenly suspected her son was not being completely honest about the damage to his pickup. He had told her he had gone 4 wheeling and struck a tree the same evening as the hit and run death. Pushing for the truth, her 21 year old son finally admitted that it was he was the hit and run driver. According to Seattle's KOMO channel 4 news, the mother then called police and turned him in.
In a highly publicized and heavily covered case in Tampa, Florida, 28 year old elementary school dance teacher, Jennifer Porter, is accused in the hit and run death of 13-year-old Bryant Wilkins and his 3-year-old brother, Durontae Caldwell in March of 2004. The Tampa Bay Tribune reports court records have shown that immediately after the crash, and having already fled the scene, Porter called her mother by cell phone. Instead of instructing her daughter to turn herself in, the mother advised her to go to her studio, where they would come get her. Along with a family friend, the two drove to the studio, but not after driving by the accident scene where they learned four children had been hit and two had died. Picking up a hysterical Jennifer, the mother drove the damaged car back to their house, where it was later put in the garage by the family friend, at the suggestion of Porter's father. At some point the mother admitted, Jennifer's father used Lysol cleaner and paper towel to wipe blood off the car. The mother also admitted a car had not been parked in the garage in years, thus further implying an attempt to conceal, by both parents. 28 hours later, after a suicidal Jennifer insisted on turning herself in, the family friend called an attorney. Later, the parents were forced to hire their own attorney when they were threatened with jail for refusing to answer questions during the investigation. Eventually, they responded to the subpoena and cooperated with investigators. No charges are expected to be filed against the father, a postal employee, or the mother, an elementary school teacher's aide. Jennifer recently turned down a plea offer that would have put her in prison for 3 years and is scheduled to go to trial in October. (Follow-up - Jennifer Porter pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and was sentenced to 2 years of house arrest. Accordiing to an article published by WTSP, Porter's father took responsibility for convincing his daughter not to turn herself in, admitting "In retrospect, it was a very bad decision, a wrong decision and one Im very sorry that I made. Curtis Stokes, Hillsborough NAACP 1st VP stated ""The parents were the ones that washed the car, took the kids hair from the windshield, the parents committed the crime not Jennifer Porter. That's where the initial outrage is." Barbara Pittman, a Florida attorney explained, "The state could not charge the parents because again they are exempt under the accessory statue that we have in this state.")
In another case in California, covered by KOVR channel 13, another mother was not so lucky when she attempted to protect her daughter. The mother, who admitted she herself has been a hit and run driver in a deadly crash 21 years earlier, drove her 17 year old daughter's damaged car from Sacramento to Los Angeles to hide it from police in the investigation of the March 2000 hit and run death of 20-year-old Jillian Kelley. The daughter was later sentenced to 3 years in California Youth Authority for leaving the scene of the fatal accident, while her mother was charged with accessory to a hit and run, and sentenced to three years in prison.
Society should applaud those parents that accept and fulfill the responsibility of taking care of and protecting their children. But it also has the right to demand those children, as well as parents, comply with our laws. The question is what would you do if your child was a hit and run driver? The answer is easier than you may think. The answer should be no different than what you would expect if it was your child laying dead in the road?