Legislation making it possible for prosecutors to charge drivers with criminal vehicular homicide was approved by the General Assembly. Sponsored by the 8th District delegation of Senator Dawn Marie Addiego, Assemblyman Joe Howarth, and Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, the bill (S-2342/A-4062) amends the law so drivers who cause fatal accidents because they failed to maintain a traffic lane can be charged with vehicular homicide.
Bruce and Eileen Lafferty testified in favor of S-2342 during a Senate Law & Public Safety Committee hearing on September 29, 2016. The legislation, Eileen’s Law, is named in honor of their late daughter, Eileen Marmino. (SenateNJ.com)
Known as “Eileen’s Law,” the measure was written by Addiego in response to the death of Eileen Marmino, a special education teacher at Burlington City High School and the mother of twins. The 34-year-old Medford woman was struck and killed by a driver who swerved into a bicycle lane in July 2015.
“This horrible tragedy was compounded when the driver could not be charged with a crime,” said Addiego. “Eileen’s father summed up the frustration, telling the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee that ‘Eileen’s life was reduced to a $300 traffic violation.’ That’s unacceptable. This bill addresses the inadequacies of the law.”
Prosecutors explained there was no basis for charges against the driver. In a criminal prosecution, the burden is to establish gross recklessness on the part of the driver. The sponsors worked closely with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office to draft the legislation.
“Prior to this, prosecutors could only give out a $300 ticket for a mere traffic violation. Their hands were tied. Now they will be given more discretion when an innocent person pays the ultimate price for a driver’s negligence,” said Howarth (R-Burlington).
The bill makes it a crime of the third degree for vehicular homicide by failing to maintain a lane. The charge is punishable by three to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“Until we can prosecute more drivers for the deaths they cause, tragedies like this will be repeated,” said Rodriguez-Gregg (R-Burlington). “It was heartbreaking what happened to Eileen. The family deserved a certain level of closure that was not provided.”
The Senate bill was advanced by the Law and Public Safety Committee in September and is currently in the Senate Budget Committee.