DES MOINES — The parents of an Urbana woman killed in a hit-and-run collision told lawmakers Monday that Iowa law needs to make clear a driver’s responsibility to notify emergency services when involved in a personal injury or fatal traffic crash.
“Our law should encourage people to do the right thing,” Ann Jacobs told representatives considering House Study Bill 123.
“We just want to clarify this law, get away from the ambiguity of it,” added her husband, Brad, who held a picture of their youngest daughter, 18-year-old Iowa State University freshman Emmalee Jacobs, who was struck and killed by a CyRide bus on her way to her first university final exam Dec. 14, 2015.
The bus driver, Benjamin Clague, now 26, was arrested Jan. 20, 2016, and charged with leaving the scene of a personal injury accident and failure to obey a traffic control device.
In August 2016, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of failure to report an accident, a simple misdemeanor, after a Story County District Court judge ruled the prosecution had to prove Clague knew he struck a person at the time of the crash to pursue the more serious charges.
The Story County attorney had argued Clague felt the impact and then later figured out what had happened, but did not report his involvement to police.
“He almost got away with it,” Ann Jacobs said. The district court judge’s interpretation of the law “encourages a driver to not stop and render aid, to not turn themselves in, but instead encourages them to take a chance they will get away with it,” she said.
Friends of the Jacobs family and friends from ISU also spoke in favor of the bill.
All three subcommittee members — Transportation Committee Chairwoman Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, Rep. Jon Thorup, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls — signed off on the bill that will now be considered by the full committee.
“We want to make very clear that people have to respond to an accident,” said Thorup, an Iowa State Patrol trooper. “Our goal is to get help to people sooner.”
Hinson explained that a previous attempt was opposed by trial attorneys because of concerns about self-incrimination.
She believes this iteration of the bill protects drivers from self-incrimination.
“The burden of proof is on the state” to prove negligence, Hinson said. “But this closes the justice loophole” that exists in current law.
“This encourages people to do the right thing,” she said, “but holds them accountable.”