Cyclists lobby for stricter hit-and-run penalties

Miami-Dade County near top for hit-and-run crashes in U.S.

SOUTH FLORIDA - More pedestrians and cyclists were hit by cars in Florida last year than in any other state. Of those who were hit,166 were killed. 

Miami-Dade County is near the top for hit-and-runs in the nation.  These alarming statistics have cyclists going to Tallahassee, demanding a change in hit-and-run sentencing laws.

"In a split instant he was over me and I was out cold," said Patrick Johnson about the day he was hit while riding his bicycle.

"A very loud bang.  I found myself on the ground," said Enda Walsh.

"I was just laying face down on the grass," said George Mayer.

All three men were all hit while riding their bicycles.  Three different accidents -- one driver stayed at the scene, one ran and was later caught, one was never caught.

Johnson showed Local 10 the bike he was riding at the time of the crash. It was repaired pretty quickly.  He, however, was not as lucky.

"I had spinal surgery, so I have rods in my neck now.   My face was fully fractured.  I've had reconstructive surgery in the face," he said.

Last year, another accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway killed Aaron Cohen and sent Enda Walsh to the hospital. 

"It's an incredibly cowardly act," said Walsh. 

That driver got less than a year in prison, outraging the bike community.

Mickey Witte and other cyclers went to work drafting a new law calling for mandatory prison time for hit-and-run drivers -- 7 years for an injury accident, 10 years for one resulting in death. 

"In this case the driver was given a much smaller charge and penalty than if he had been charged with D.U.I.," said Witte. "We want to make it so that they are not incentivized to leave, and that leaving the scene carries with it some real consequences."

The cyclists rode as a group to Tallahassee to promote bicycle safety and lobby legislators to change Florida law. 

"We've got to create a mindset where the driver is no longer thinking, 'If I run, I will save myself,'" Walsh said.

Meanwhile, Patrick Johnson is waiting for justice that may never come. 

"They will always be looking over their shoulder.  Their conscience will adversely affect them over the rest of their lives," he said.

South Florida cyclists say State Senator Rene Garcia of Hialeah/Miami Lakes has agreed to introduce their bill in the next legislative session.

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