BERLIN — Legislation with its roots in Worcester County that would increase the penalties for causing life-threatening injuries while operating a vehicle negligently inched closer to fruition this week with overwhelming support in the state Senate and House.
State Senator Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) again this year introduced Senate Bill 17, or Wade’s Law, in the General Assembly and it now appears her persistence will pay off. 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.
Carozza first filed Wade’s Law in 2017 when she was Worcester’s representative in the House of Delegates and the bill passed the full House before dying in the Senate as the session expired. A similar situation played out in 2019 when the bill unanimously passed the Senate, but timed out before the full House could vote on it.
On crossover day on Monday, Senate Bill 17 got a favorable report from the Judicial Proceedings Committee before breezing through a vote by the full Senate, 47-0. Senate Bill 17 then moved to the House Judicial Committee. Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38C) filed sister legislation in the House and it passed the full House with a 130-4 vote on Monday before moving to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The respective committees will now reconcile amended versions of the legislation before it becomes law.
The bills were prompted by a fatal crash in Worcester County when it came to light the current penalty for criminally-negligent driving and causing a life-threatening injury is a $500 motor vehicle citation. If passed, Wade’s Law would increase the penalty for an offender if convicted to a maximum of 18 months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.
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 and life-changing 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 was brought to Carozza’s attention by former Worcester County prosecutor Bill McDermott, who pointed out the anomaly in the current penalties for offenders.
Joining Carozza in testifying at the Senate committee hearing was Je’Ani Lyles, who was also a victim of a horrific crash caused by a negligent driver and suffered life-threatening and life-altering injuries in June 2018. During testimony, Lyles’ mother Carla described not only the horror of the crash with her daughter severing her T-8 vertebrae with paralysis from the chest down. She pleaded for a more just penalty to hold those who are criminally negligent responsible for their actions.
Carozza praised her colleagues in the Senate for passing Wade’s Law.
“I am so grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for passing this common sense public safety legislation,” she said. “This legislation provides a just penalty for survivors like Wade Pusey and Je’Ani Lyles who have suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of criminally-negligent driving. … Let this be the year we see Wade’s Law all the way through to final passage. We are completely committed to seeing this through for the sake of future victims. You keep fighting the good fight.”