Archive for Friday, November 9, 2007

Legislative panel recommends changes in vehicular homicide law

Tonganoxie father continues to press for action

November 9, 2007

A legislative committee on Friday recommended a bill that would require drug testing at accident scenes where there was an injury or death.

The move was supported by Dennis Bixby of Tonganoxie, whose only child, Amanda, was killed in a Feb. 14 traffic wreck.

"We've got to get this thing done, and at least this way we know that we are moving forward," Bixby said after the vote by the House-Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the death of Amanda Bixby, 19, officers initially cited Ricardo Flores, of Lansing, for vehicular homicide, failure to yield and driving without a license. Flores ran a stop sign and hit Bixby's car and another vehicle on U.S. Highway 24-40 just west of Basehor.

Later, prosecutors refused to pursue the vehicular homicide charge, saying the case didn't fit the definition of the law. Flores then pleaded no contest to failure to yield at a stop sign, speeding and driving without a valid license and was ordered to pay $228 in fines and court costs and spend six months on probation.

Bixby lobbied lawmakers to tighten the vehicular homicide law.

But Committee Chairman Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said that probably wasn't possible because of the complexity of the law.

"It's an issue the Legislature has wrestled with for decades," he said.

Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the Legislature could adopt a law that would require drug testing by getting a saliva sample from people involved in accidents. The sample would be retrieved by a swab. He said the Legislature could restrict the requirement to accidents were someone is killed or sent to the hospital.

Under the proposal, a person could refuse to submit to the test but they would lose their driver's license for a year. That is similar to the current law on submitting to an alcohol test.

But some lawmakers said requiring a swab test was an infringement on an individual's rights of privacy.

"I don't know where we are going with this," said Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville.

But Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, who attended Friday's meeting with Bixby, said he thought the proposal was balanced and had a chance of being approved by the full Legislature when the session starts in January.

"I don't think this is going to be something that is going to be easy to accomplish, but I believe it has merit and I believe there is a good possibility that it can be," Pine said.

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