Mother vows to get hit-and-run penalties changed

Mother wants harsher hit-and-run penalties after son's tragic death

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Aaron Arnold Aaron Arnold
Ronnie Chavez Ronnie Chavez
CHANDLER, Ariz. -

He was driving high on drugs when he hit and killed a boy on a bike and then left the scene. But leaving the scene may actually be the reason this suspect was spared a much harsher punishment.

A loophole in Arizona law may be giving some criminals an incentive to take off after things like a deadly accident.

Now one valley family is fighting to change that.

"First thing I saw was my son's shoe… his bike in two pieces… and a yellow tarp over my son and I knew, I knew he was gone."

June 29th 2012 was the day Trisha Arnold's heart was broken.

"I just saw caution tape everywhere."

Her 11-year-old son Aaron was riding his bicycle when he was killed in a hit and run while crossing Arizona Avenue near Knox Road in Chandler.

The man behind the wheel of the truck that struck him was later identified as 24-year old Ronnie Chavez. He took off.

"How could somebody leave my baby on that hot street," Trisha wonders.

"The reason why I left the scene of the accident was because with my bond situation, I was almost right or wrong, probably going to be spending the night here," Ronnie Chavez told FOX 10.

Chavez spoke to FOX 10 exclusively two days after the accident and admitted that he panicked because of charges he faced -- that he still faces -- in a major drug bust.

According to the attorney general's office, Chavez was one of more than 30 people arrested back in April in a joint investigation with the Department of Public Safety, Department of Corrections and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Trisha Arnold thought that was reason enough for the county attorney to Charge Chavez with more than leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

"The first meeting I had with them they said he would do time on his drug cases and he was probation eligible for my son's death," says Trisha.

"Probation in this case to run consecutive to the prison in the other case. In other words after the prison time would be served in the other case he would be placed on probation to serve a period of probation on this case," says Scott Halverson, Arnold's attorney.

Arnold's attorney Scott Halverson says according to Arizona law, a hit and run can be considered a misdemeanor if there is no injury. If there's a death then it becomes a class 3 felony and if you actually cause that accident, then it becomes a class 2 felony.

Investigators found that Aaron wasn't in a crosswalk, but because Chavez fled and because toxicology reports indicate he had meth in his system, Halverson says he will most likely do time.

Aaron's family wants to make sure Chavez or anyone else for that matter who hits and runs does go to prison.

"If this young man had drugs in his car and he would have stopped to help my grandson he would have been looking at some felony charges. By him taking off and not being responsible for his actions he's only looking at a misdemeanor charge. So for people that know the law and are involved in criminal activities, do most of them know that?" asks Gwen Golden, Aaron's grandmother.

Gwen Golden was shocked to learn how prevalent hit and run accidents are in Arizona. The most recent motor vehicle crash facts indicate the number of fatalities associated with a hit and run accident was in the hundreds in just one year's time.

"This today is all about putting it out there to people that this law needs to be changed. It could be your child next time, you know your grandchild, your niece whatever. If you do run and you get caught, those charges should be so severe that you're going to think before you take off."

"I'm fighting for justice for my son and I'm not going to stop until this law is changed and I will petition my behind off," says Trisha.

Trish Arnold is in the process of contacting her local legislators, an effort to keep others from suffering the way her son did. She describes her son as loving and caring – someone who will make a difference even though his young life ended all too soon.

"Hit and run investigations are extremely difficult to investigate. You have to be able to place the operator of the vehicle behind the wheel, which means that you have to have witnesses in many cases, on hit and run," says Chandler Police Det. Seth Tyler.

The county attorney's office says it's in the process of offering Chavez a plea deal for leaving the scene of the accident. If accepted, he would face up to seven years in prison.

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