School Closings & Delays

Increasing The Punishment For Hit And Runs

WILKES-BARRE — Of the 5,000 cases the Luzerne County district attorney’s office handles each year, many of them are hit-and-run crashes.

In 2012 alone, five deadly hit and runs happened within six months. In some of these cases, the suspects end up serving as little as one year behind bars.

But the district attorney wants to change that.

Earlier this month, Thomas Letteer was sentenced to two to five years behind bars for a deadly hit and run.  It was the crash that killed 5-year-old Kevin Miller in Wilkes-Barre just before Christmas in 2012.

The Luzerne County district attorney used the case as an example of the harsher penalties she would like to see for hit and runs. She says there’s a loophole that suspects in too many hit and run cases are taking advantage of, and she hopes to close that loophole.

Mother’s Day 2013 is one that Sheryl Storch of Jenkins Township will never forget, not because she got her mother a wonderful gift or because her children got one for her, but because that was the day her aunt Jean Darsky was hit and killed by a pickup truck.

“My husband came back. He told me ‘don’t go down,’ and he told me it was my Aunt Jean, and it’s something I don’t ever want to see,” Storch recalled.jean darsky

According to court documents, the woman came home from church and was checking her mailbox when a white pickup driving down Westminster road hit and killed her.

About five months later, police charged John Kuniskas. He has yet to go to trial.

The harshest charge against him – fleeing the scene – calls for punishment of as little as one year in prison.

“It’s sickening. They should do a lot more time than that. I mean they took a life.”

The state attorney general’s office is prosecuting this case because of a conflict of interest in the Luzerne County district attorney’s office. But District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis agrees the mandatory minimum for fleeing the scene is not enough.

“You sit with the family and you try to explain that they may be facing only a year in prison. It’s actually heartbreaking and my heart breaks for these families,” said Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.

Salavantis blames a loophole in the law.

A drunk driver who stays at the scene of a deadly crash faces at least three to six years in prison. But if he leaves the scene, he can avoid a sobriety test and face a minimum of just one to two years for fleeing the scene.kevin miller

Kevin Miller was hit and killed in Wilkes-Barre just before Christmas in 2012. The driver, Thomas Letteer was sentenced to two to five years behind bars earlier this month.

“My innocent, 5-year-old son was ripped out of my husband’s hand by a drunk derelict,” said Kevin’s mother Caroline Miller.

Miller is working with Salavantis to push for what’s been named Kevin’s Law. The bill calls for increasing the penalty for fleeing the scene of a deadly crash to three to six years behind bars.

“I do this first and foremost for my precious Kevin.”

After seeing Caroline Miller on TV, Darla Carey of Wilkes-Barre started a petition in support of Kevin’s Law. She already has thousands of signatures.

“So far there’s five or six families that have been stuck in this loophole, and it’s five or six families too much,” Carey said.

Too much pain and not enough justice for people like Sheryl Storch.

“Please, we beg you, please, make it harsher, a lot harsher. Make an example of somebody. Make this something that nobody’s going to want to ever, ever do,” Storch pleaded.

A trial date for John Kuniskas, the man charged for the Mother’s Day hit and run has not yet been set.

The state House of Representatives is expected to vote on Kevin’s Law next month.

5 comments

  • Rose Swetter

    I love how this mother has to do name calling and there was no proof he was drunk. Do not go making accusations. It’s a tragic accident and I know what it is like to lose a child. But name calling and false accusations it wrong. God had other plans and we must all see that. Please stop with the name calling!

    • SRV

      How do you know he wasn’t drunk? This mother’s precious little boy was killed by a coward! “Five-year-old Kevin Miller was killed after being hit by a car Friday night in Wilkes-Barre. Police said after he was hit, the car drove off.” Who are you? The WNEP forum police? Please stop the name calling? She can’t call the guy who MOWED down her 5 yr old son a derelict? What is he your best friend? Doesn’t matter who he is to YOU, he killed her son. He can go live his life in a year or two..this little boy cannot. And OBVIOUSLY God had another plan, but that doesn’t help the heartache this mother is going to be going through for some time to come! What is WRONG with you?!

  • Mad In Hazleton

    Look people it’s simple, if you hit a person with a car because you are drunk, high texting, the minimum penalty should be 10 years in jail regardless if you run or stay.

    • chris

      It shouldn’t be 10 years for hit and run. the courts should sentence them for what the crime really is, vehicular manslaughter.

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