BERLIN — State Senator Mary Beth Carozza last week introduced a bill that would increase the penalties for causing life-threatening injuries while operating a vehicle or vessel negligently.
Senate Bill 248 was Carozza’s first official piece of legislation as a senator. The bill, if approved, would establish the offense of causing a life-threatening injury by motor vehicle or vessel as criminal negligence and greatly enhance the penalties associated with a conviction. The current maximum penalty for criminally negligent driving causing a life-threatening injury is a $500 citation.
Carozza’s bill, which has 11 co-sponsors in the Senate, would make the offense a misdemeanor. A violator convicted of the offense would be subject to a maximum of 18 months in prison and/or a $5,000 fine. The bill was cross-filed in the House by nine co-sponsors including Lower Shore Delegates Wayne Hartman and Charles Otto, among others.
Carozza said the issue was brought to her by the families of victims of a criminally negligent driving incident in Worcester County in February 2016. A Stockton man drove through a work zone along a roadway in the south end of Worcester County, killing one county roads department employee, Scott Tatterson of Pocomoke, and critically injuring another, Wade Pusey of Seaford.
The driver, Marion Jones, then 60, of Stockton, was ultimately indicted on charges of manslaughter, criminal negligence manslaughter, negligent driving and reckless driving. Jones was found guilty of negligent driving and reckless endangerment and was fined $500 for each conviction. The vehicular manslaughter charges were not prosecuted. The case revealed a gap in current law when it comes to prosecuting individuals who cause life-threatening injuries with a vehicle in a criminally-negligent manner. Carozza said her bill, if approved, would close that gap and create stronger penalties for negligent driving cases during which life-threatening injuries are sustained by victims.
“It only makes sense that when life-threatening injuries are sustained as a result of criminally-negligent driving as they were in the case of Wade Pusey that we pass legislation to bring a more just penalty to those convicted of causing life-threatening injuries with a vehicle or vessel,” she said.
Carozza introduced similar legislation in 2017 as a member of the House of Delegates. That bill breezed through the House with a 140-0 vote, but failed to get in front of the full Senate.