Senate Passes Tougher Penalties For Drivers Who Flee Police

Martin J. Golden

May 16, 2006

Albany- State Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), a former New York City Police Officer, today joined his colleagues in the New York State Senate in passing the "Craig J. Todeschini Bill", that would make it a felony for a driver to flee police.

The bill is named after 25 year old State Police Trooper Craig J. Todeschini of Geddes, Onondaga County, who was killed in the line of duty on April 23rd. A speeding motorcyclist failed to obey Trooper Todeschini's directive to stop, resulting in a high speed chase and his police vehicle crashed into a tree during the pursuit.

"A husband, a father, a son, a brave law enforcement officer, was killed because a driver refused to pull over and caused a tragic high speed chase," Senator Bruno said. "We need tougher penalties to make drivers think twice about fleeing an officer and putting innocent lives in danger. I hope the Assembly will join us in passing this bill so we can prevent another tragedy like the one that claimed Trooper Todeschini."

"Sixteen states have felony pursuit laws on the books to protect people from dangerous high speed chases, and it’s time that New York became the seventeenth," said Senator Marty Golden. "This bill would protect police officers, motorists and pedestrians by deterring these chases and punishing drivers who flee the police."

Senator Marty Golden continued, "The current punishment for fleeing a police officer is so lenient that drivers might figure they’re better off fleeing than being pulled over for an offense that carries a greater penalty. This inequity in the law is literally costing lives. We need bipartisan support for this bill and we need to pass it in both houses this year, or more officers could be killed in the line of duty chasing a fleeing driver."

Kristi Todeschini said, "I would like to thank the Senate for acting on this bill today. It should have been addressed many years ago, but unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like this to bring the issue to the forefront. Enacting this bill into law would give prosecutors better leverage to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

The bill (S.7858) creates the felony offense of unlawful fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle when a person, after being directed to stop by a police officer or having stopped at the officer's direction, flees or attempts to flee that police officer by driving at a speed in excess of twenty miles over speed limit or engaging in reckless driving.

Under the provisions of the bill, unlawfully fleeing an officer would be a Class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison; if an officer or another person is injured, the offense would be a Class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison; and if an officer or another person is seriously injured or killed, the offense would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The bill was sent to the Assembly.

The Senate has acted on felony pursuit legislation in previous years, in response to other incidents where people have been killed or injured including:
>On January 1, 2004, 24 year old David Scaringe of Albany was killed by an errant bullet from police, who were trying to stop a driver from fleeing.
> In June of 2001, Rochester police officer Russ Igler was seriously injured when he was run over by a bank robbery suspect fleeing police from the scene of the crime.

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, over the past ten years, 688 law enforcement officers have been killed in motor vehicle incidents, almost 100 more than were killed by guns.

The Legislature, led by State Senator Martin Golden enacted a new law last year toughening penalties for killing police officers, and Senator Golden, with the Senate, is still fighting to enact the death penalty for killing an officer.