While the family and friends of a pedestrian killed by a hit-and-run driver in Amagansett remain steadfast that the sentence the driver faces is not long enough, a bill that would increase penalties for such defendants may soon become law.
Edward Orr, a 30-year-old from Montauk, will likely receive 2 to 6 years at his sentencing in Suffolk County Criminal Court next month. Even if Orr had been found guilty at a trial, he could only have been sentenced 2 1/2 to 7 years on the top count of leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality.
Drivers who flee the scene of fatal accidents may face stiffer penalties in the future, though.
Proposed legislation would increase the maximum sentence for a driver like Orr to 15 years. The bill upgrades the crime of leaving the scene of an incident resulting in a death from a class D felony to a class C felony. Other types of hit-and-run offenses would also be upgraded.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, passed the State Senate on Feb. 21.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I-Sag Harbor, who introduced the bill, said on Monday that he expects the assembly to move on the legislation sometime in May or June. "I'm optimistic that this bill will pass," he said, adding that this has been a statewide issue for quite sometime.
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota has also spoken out in support of the bill.
Many believe the way the current law is written, drivers who are intoxicated at the time of a fatal accident actually have incentive, Thiele said, to leave the scene because the punishment is less than if they were discovered to be driving under the influence.
“I have heard and read about too many instances in which individuals have been killed by hit-and-run drivers and it is later determined that the driver was intoxicated," LaValle said in a statement. “This bill, rightfully, closes loopholes in the current law.”
The bill was introduced following the death of Erika Hughes, 24, of Mastic, who was killed in a 2011 hit-and-run. The driver, Preston Mimms, 48, was caught nearly 10 months after and pleaded guilty in December 2012, outraging Hughes' family that he was sentenced to one and a third to four years in prison.
The family and friends of John Judge, the 61-year-old pedestrian killed in Amagansett in October, shared similar sentiments when they learned the driver who struck Judge faces 2 to 6 years.
"This man hit my brother, realized no one was watching and kept going," said Judge's sister Peg DiLena, who lives in Florida. "My brother got no plea deal, no second chance — how long was he lying in the street alive and in pain waiting to die? This is an outrage," she said.
The Lupo family, Orr's closest friends in Amagansett, said last week they feel like Orr is getting off easy.
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They held a vigil/rally in Amagansett on Monday to remember Judge and protest the sentence.
Gordon Ryan, a Montauk attorney, said his client thought he hit a deer and then panicked after he learned he had in fact killed a man. Ryan said he has proof that Orr was sober and clean at the time of the accident because he was coming from Phoenix House, an outpatient facility in East Hampton, at the time of the accident.
Orr will spend at least 4 to 5 years of the sentence in prison due to his prior record, including a felony for which he was on probation at the time, Ryan said.
Ryan also said his client is not charged with causing the accident, but rather his actions after the accident occurred, which included staging a second accident in Montauk to try and cover up the damage to his Jeep, and then having it voluntarily repossessed.
DiLena said she disagrees. "My brother was hit with the passenger side of Mr. Orr's vehicle, which meant he had to walk directly in front of the driver's line of sight, assuming the driver was paying attention to where he was going," she said; Judge was crossing from the north side of the street after dinner at Astro's Pizza to the south side of the street where he lived. "There were no skid marks on the road which would indicate the driver attempted to stop. My brother, who stood six feet tall, would have been hard to miss; he did not come out of the shadows or from between vehicles."
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