Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

January 8, 2014

Felony offense: Puckett’s measure logical

— — Veteran Southwest Virginia lawmaker Phillip Puckett is hoping to strengthen existing state law as it relates to police officers and emergency service personnel who are killed in the line of duty. His proposal is logical and merits full consideration by the General Assembly.

Puckett, D-Russell, is working with the family of the late Trooper Andrew David Fox of the Virginia State Police. Fox was a Tazewell County native and 2003 graduate of Tazewell High School who died in the line of duty after being struck by a motorist while directing traffic at the Virginia State Fair on Oct. 5, 2012.

The operator of the vehicle that ran over Fox pleaded no contest in Hanover County General District Court to a misdemeanor offense of reckless driving. She received a 12-month suspended sentence and was fined $1,000.

According to Puckett, the family is still having a difficult time with Trooper Fox’s death, and the minimum penalty provided by the law for the offense. As a result, Puckett has sent a draft bill to legislative services that would make such a future offense a felony — as the family of Trooper Fox has requested.

“We drafted it as a misdemeanor at the time, but the family wanted it to be a felony,” Puckett said last week. “I made that change, sent it to legislative services and it will probably be dropped on Friday. I think it will be assigned to Courts of Justice.”

Fox was wearing a reflective vest as he was directing traffic at the park. He was simply doing his job when he was struck and fatally wounded. Two of Fox’s fellow troopers, Aaron Brenner and Justin Crawley, came to his assistance and lifted the 1992 Jeep Cherokee off of Fox. He was transported to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond where he died of the injuries he received.

“We are trying to gain official State Police support,” Trooper Fox’s sister, Lauren Fox, told the Daily Telegraph last week. “We are trying to change the law. We don’t consider what that woman did was accidental and we hope that getting this law passed will make it safer for law enforcement officers. It wouldn’t just be a law to protect law enforcement officers. We think that no on-the-job death of a firefighter, paramedic or any Department of Transportation worker is accidental. We think that this law should protect everyone whose work puts them out on the highways.”

The family makes a compelling point. If current state law only affords a misdemeanor penalty on a charge such as reckless driving when a law enforcement officer or emergency medical service personnel worker is killed in the line of duty, then existing law should certainly be revisited.

Of course it will be up to lawmakers in the General Assembly to determine if such a conviction rises to the status of a felony offense, but a stronger penalty would certainly appear to be in order — particularly when a life is lost as a result of a distracted or inattentive driver.

It is imperative for Puckett’s measure to receive full and meaningful consideration by his fellow lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans. The family of Trooper Fox deserves nothing less from the state’s elected lawmakers.

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