Locals want higher convictions for hit-and-run drivers
MIAMI (WSVN) -- A year after a bicyclist was struck on the street and left to die, a community is begging for harsher punishments.
It's a story we see too often: fatal hit-and-run crashes on South Florida streets and memorials on the side of roads. Saturday, a bike ride with a couple dozen riders took place in memory of cyclist Miguel Rocafort who was killed in Southwest Miami-Dade.
The memorial was complete with candles formed in the letter "A" for Alejandro Hermis, who lost his life while riding his bike in North Miami-Dade last week. Patty Cohen knows the pain of loss. Her husband Aaron died when a hit-and-run driver struck him on the Rickenbacker Causeway, last February.
The young father was out for a morning bicycle ride. "Before that and after that tons of people are hit and killed," said Cohen. "It's a disproportionate problem in South Florida."
Melita Jaric, a 43-year-old graduate student was struck outside her home in Southwest Miami-Dade on March 8 and died a few days later.
Two weeks later, 50-year-old Ana Mares, a survivor of breast cancer, died at the hands of a driver who hit her in Miami and never stopped.
The numbers of hit and run crashes are actually down slightly in Miami-Dade County from 15,229 in 2011 to 12,813 in 2012.
However, for the victims' loved ones, once suspects go to trial, sentences can add even more devastation. Michele Traverso, convicted of killing Aaron Cohen and fleeing the scene, received a sentence of 364 days in prison.
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County commissioners will vote on a resolution asking Florida's legislature for a minimum of at least seven years for a conviction on a hit-and-run crash and a 10-year minimum if someone is killed or alcohol is involved.
Patty Cohen hopes this marks the first step to changing Florida's laws for her family's sake and countless others. "As we've seen multiple times before," said Cohen, "they either never get caught or get a lesser sentence than the potential charge could have been had they not left the scene. It's an issue that's important to me coz a hit-and-run driver killed my husband, but this has been going on way before and way after and lots of people don't make the news."
Michele Traverso could have faced anywhere from 22 months to 30 years, along with his sentence of 364 days in jail.
He has two years of community control.
There is currently no mandatory minimum jail time in Florida statues for drivers guilty of leaving the scene of a crash.
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