BERLIN — State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) has resumed her quest to get legislation passed increasing the penalties for causing life-threatening injuries while operating a vehicle or vessel negligently.
Senate Bill 17, or Wade’s Law, would establish the offense of causing a life-threatening injury by motor vehicle or vessel as criminal negligence and would 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 filed Wade’s Law again this year in advance of the General Assembly session and the bill had its first hearing in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday.
“Current law provides that manslaughter by vehicle by criminally negligent driving is a misdemeanor and subject to a maximum three-year imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine,” Carozza testified on Tuesday. “Yet, if the victim is maimed, paralyzed or suffers some other life-threatening injury, that same criminally-negligent driver is only liable for a $500 fine. Senate Bill 17 provides a more just penalty.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Carozza testified about an incident in Worcester County in February 2016 that served as the catalyst for the legislation. On Feb. 22, 2016, a Stockton man drove through a work zone along a roadway in the south end of Worcester and struck two county roads department employees, killing Scott Tatterson of Pocomoke and critically injuring another, Wade Pusey, of Seaford. The collision left Pusey with several life-threatening injuries from which he has not fully recovered.
The driver was ultimately indicted on charges of manslaughter, negligent driving and reckless driving, among others. The driver was later found guilty of negligent driving and reckless endangerment and fined $500 for each conviction.
The case revealed a gap in the current law when it comes to prosecuting individuals who cause life-threatening injuries with a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner. The case was brought to Carozza’s attention by the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office after it became clear the only offense the driver could by charged with in terms of Pusey’s injuries was a motor vehicle citation with a maximum penalty of $500.
Carozza first introduced Wade’s Law in 2017 as a state delegate, and the legislation passed the full House before dying in the senate as the session expired. In 2019, Carozza introduced the legislation again and it unanimously passed the Senate but not advance in the House before adjournment that year.
Joining Carozza in testifying in support of the bill on Tuesday was Wicomico County Deputy State’s Attorney Bill McDermott, who first brought the issue to Carozza’s attention when he worked in a similar capacity for Worcester County. McDermott emphasized the fact Senate Bill 17 is simply building on an existing law in order to create a more just penalty for criminally negligent driving causing a life-threatening injury. Carozza said she was undaunted by past efforts to get the bill through the state legislature.
“Let this be the year that we see Wade’s Law all the way through to final passage,” she said. “My parents always taught me that if you believe in a just cause or action, then you keep working on it, not for yourself, but for people like Wade Pusey and his family. We are completely committed to seeing this through for the sake of future victims.”