When three-year old Tariyah Williams darted out of her yard into the street, Florida driver Eric Clayton barely had time to brake before hitting the little girl. Eric stopped, carried the child back to her yard, spoke a few words to witnesses, and abruptly left the scene of the accident. Tariyah later died from her injuries and Eric turned himself into the local police station. He is now facing up to 15 years in state prison on felony-hit-and-run charges. The irony; media reports suggest he may not even have been at fault in the incident and, if so, would likely have been able to walk away from the accident with nothing more than his memories to haunt him.
Car accidents are serious and stressful enough. Exacerbating the circumstance by leaving the scene of an accident can turn an already difficult situation into a misdemeanor or a felony in California; even if you did not cause the accident.
Under California Vehicle Code 20002, drivers are required to do the following:
- Immediately stop your vehicle
- Give the other party your identifying information (your name and current address)
- If other parties are on the scene, provide your driver’s license and vehicle registration upon request.
- If you are not the owner of the car you were driving, you must provide the name and address of the car’s registered owner.
Failure to do the above could result in a misdemeanor hit and run charge. Misdemeanor hit and run charges carry steep penalties. If you are convicted you could face up to a $1,000 fine, or six months in a county jail. Even if the accident was not your fault!
Beyond that, if you injure or kill someone in an auto accident and flee the scene, you could be charged with a felony hit and run. A felony hit and run carries penalties including a fine of between $1000 and $10,000 dollars, and 16 months to 3 years in state prison. If someone was killed or suffered a permanent serious injury in the accident, the state prison sentence increases to two to four years.
In some circumstances, it might not be safe to remain at the scene. For example, if you need medical attention yourself, you absolutely should make sure that your injuries are treated; even if that means heading for the hospital. Additionally, exigent circumstances might make staying on the scene dangerous. At times, upset relatives or other witnesses may pose a threat or traffic or weather conditions might be unsafe. However, before you leave the scene of an accident, make sure that you have a concrete reason for doing so.
It’s the right thing to do
Regardless of who is at fault in an accident, all parties involved should stay on the scene and do whatever is necessary to help resolve the situation. Injured parties should be attended to, the police should be called, insurance and contact information should be exchanged, and efforts should be taken to clear the way for other traffic to avoid additional collisions. Even without a legal duty, these things help to make the roads safer for everyone and remember; if you were the injured person, you’d want someone to stay and help you.