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.
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 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.