The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 5, 2010

Erin’s Law would enable families to get sense of justice after future tragedies

FAIRMONT — There came a point several months after the violent death of her daughter that Debbie Keener came to a very grave conclusion. The person responsible for the hit-and-run death of her daughter would face but one charge — leaving the scene of an accident causing death. 

And that charge, if successfully prosecuted, would mean that the person responsible for the death of Erin Keener, a 21-year-old honors nursing student at West Virginia University, would serve up to three years in prison.

It just doesn’t seem fair that the life of a bright, vibrant young woman was snuffed out on a November night in 2005, and the penalty against the person responsible for the crime is minor in comparison to the tragic loss.

But the Keener case is an unusual one. It has been from the beginning. It took nearly four years after her death for an indictment to be made in the case. Jon D. Morris, 65, is charged with leaving the scene of an accident with death without offering assistance and will stand trial on that charge this summer.

But it is not this particular case that sent Debbie Keener to the Marion County delegation to talk about prison sentences for similar crimes. Knowing that nothing would affect the outcome of the prosecution of Erin’s death, Keener still wanted to make sure that other families would have justice if they lost their loved ones in a similar way. House Majority Whip Mike Caputo and Delegates Tim Manchin and Linda Longstreth, along with eight of their colleagues, responded.

If passed, Erin’s Law — the way that it will be refered to in the West Virginia State Code and in courthouses across the state — will ensure that a person who knowingly leaves the scene of an accident causing injury or death will face a penalty of a $5,000 fine, one to five years in prison or both prison and the fine.

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