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Families of fatal hit-and-run victims speak in support of new alert system

The family of hit-and-run victim Skylar Marion urged lawmakers Wednesday to help police track down vehicles involved in such accidents and increase penalties for those who flee the scene.

"We can make a change here today. We can hold people accountable for their actions," Dawn Caley, Skylar's aunt, told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "We may not be able to stop people from making bad decisions, but we can make it harder for them to get away with it."

Caley and the Marion family were testifying in support of two pieces of legislation by state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena.

Senate Bill 84 would increase the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal incident from 10 to 15 years imprisonment.

Senate Bill 86 would establish a Yellow Alert program allowing law enforcement to quickly release vehicle information after fatal hit-and-runs.

Police said Skylar, 15, was hit by a sport utility vehicle on April 12, 2013, while he was walking on Mountain Road in Pasadena, about a quarter-mile from his home. He died after three days in a coma.

Simonaire said the legislation was spurred by recent hit-and-runs in his district and across the state. Three of the seven unsolved fatal hit-and-runs in Anne Arundel County since 2009 were in his district.

Yellow Alerts are modeled after AMBER and Silver Alerts. Both types of programs allow rapid dissemination of vehicle information and license plate numbers. AMBER Alerts are for missing children that law enforcement agencies suspect may have been kidnapped; Silver Alerts are for missing, at-risk senior citizens.

Maryland had two AMBER Alerts and 55 Silver Alerts last year, according to the Maryland State Police. The state police send out the alerts at the request of local agencies.

There also is a Blue Alert for instances in which police officers have been killed, but that has not yet been used.

"I'm passionate about this issue," Simonaire said during his testimony, calling hit-and-runs "an epidemic."

"We need to change the culture, the mind-set of people that say, 'I can hit somebody or hit a piece of property, know there is damage, and just flee.'"

Jenna Schrieber testified about the death of her husband James, killed in 2011 while working on the side of Route 100. The driver has yet to be found.

"There is no way to describe the anguish of knowing the person who killed your loved one is free and has never been brought to justice," Schreiber said.

She said a Yellow Alert system and harsher penalties would assist law enforcement after future incidents.

No one testified against the Yellow Alert proposal at Wednesday's hearing.

Written testimony by the state Department of Transportation took no position on the issue, but cautioned lawmakers that putting too many messages on highway signs could distract drivers.

The state police issued a letter that also took no position on the bill but said that "overloading the use of any alert system will result in the public paying less attention to it."

After the police letter was submitted, Simonaire introduced an amendment limiting the Yellow alerts to instances in which there have been fatalities.

State police officials said that didn't change their concerns.

The committee didn't vote on the bills after the hearing. But Caley and the Marion family said they were optimistic, particularly about authorization for a Yellow Alert system.

When hit-and-run drivers are not found, "you live it every day ... You don't stop looking," Mike Marion, Skylar's father, said in an interview after the hearing.

"Every day you go somewhere — doesn't matter where you go — you are asked. It never stops. It just keeps on building and building."

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