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Bill would stiffen hit and run penalties

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State Senator Kirk Watson wants to make the penalty hit and run drivers face more severe.

Watson wants drivers who leave the scene of a fatal accident to face the same punishment as those convicted of sex assault, robbery, and manslaughter. He believes this might motivate people to stop and help victims of accidents.

Saturday night a man was run over twice as he attempted to cross a service road at I-35 and Hwy 183. Neither driver stopped to help the man. The crime has become commonplace in Austin.

In 2012 393 drivers left the scene of an accident. Twelve of those incidents involved a fatality.

Watson has authored Senate Bill 275. It would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal crash to a second degree felony. That would make the crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The charge of failure to stop and render aid is currently a third degree felony that carries a penalty of between two and ten years in prison.

Bart Griffin's daughter Courtney was killed in 2011. Police say that she was struck by Gabrielle Nestande's car and then left in the roadway. Griffin has been working with Watson's office to see this bill created. He spoke to FOX 7 outside the courtroom where Nestande is on trial.

"Basically what this does is closes down a loophole when somebody is intoxicated and leaves the scene of the accident, they can be incentivized to leave the scene if they're intoxicated, sober up and then have less charges filed against them," Griffin said. "It will close that loophole and allow charges to be filed right away."

The bill also has the support of APD Chief Art Acevedo.

"Trauma has the golden hour in terms of getting people into surgery and terms of their survivability and if we can make it painful for people to flee, we're hoping some people will take responsibility stay at the scene dial 9-1-1 and we may be able to save lives," Acevedo said.

Austin Police are also supporting a bill that would collect DNA samples from those arrested for a class B misdemeanor and up. Currently DNA is only taken from those convicted of felonies. DNA from misdemeanor arrests in California allegedly tied Mark Norwood to the murder of Michael Morton's wife.

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