Lobbying for fairer laws of road Grieving: Shirley Beacom has spent the months since her son was killed on Mountain Road last winter encouraging members of Maryland's General Assembly to toughen the penalty against hit-and-run drivers.

January 07, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Brian James Beacom, 29, was crossing Mountain Road near a bar in Pasadena just after midnight on a Saturday when a dark-colored minivan struck and killed him, then sped away.

While that was the most horrifying news county police delivered to his mother March 1, there was also this:

If police did not find the driver of the minivan within the next few hours, they told her, there would be no way to determine whether the driver had been intoxicated at the time of the accident. And the most serious charge the driver who killed her son would face was leaving the scene of an accident where there was a fatality. That charge, if it is the driver's first hit-and-run fatality, carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 or imprisonment for one year, or both.

"I was furious," said Shirley Beacom, a Glen Burnie bookkeeper. "I said, 'This is ridiculous. As far as I'm concerned, my son was just murdered.' I decided the night my son was killed that I was going to change the law."

She has been trying ever since.

Because of Beacom's efforts, state Dels. Michael W. Burns, a Glen Burnie Republican, and Marsha Perry, a Crofton Democrat, will be lobbying the House of Delegates next week for co-sponsors of a bill they have drafted to increase the penalty for leaving an accident scene. They will be introducing the bill in the House the following week.

The bill proposes to increase the maximum penalty to a $5,000 fine or five years imprisonment, or both.

"The changes I'm proposing are common sense," Burns said. "You can get more of a penalty for drunk driving than you can for hit-and-run. Unfortunately, it encourages people to rabbit. If you've got somebody who's drunk, they hit somebody, they leave the scene and think, 'Even if they catch me later, I'm sober [by then], and they won't be able to hit me for that.'

"It just doesn't make sense to have a law that encourages people to flee the scene of an accident."

If the bill passes, the maximum penalty for leaving the scene will vTC be more severe than that for homicide with a motor vehicle while driving under the influence -- $5,000 or three years, or both. Homicide with a motor vehicle while intoxicated carries a maximum penalty of $5,000 or five years, or both.

The bill also proposes extending the statute of limitations for a hit-and-run fatality from one year to three years, a proposal supported by Lt. Scott Pittaway, commander of the Anne Arundel police traffic safety section.

Pittaway said the county averages one fatal hit-and-run a year. But last year, he said, there were four. All except Brian Beacom's case were solved.

William Katcef, assistant state's attorney, said he "strongly supports" the bill.

"There has to be a greater incentive on the part of the driver to remain at the scene of the accident and fulfill his or her obligations to render aid," Katcef said. "If the penalty for failure to remain at the scene of a fatality somewhat corresponds with either manslaughter or homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated, there's a greater incentive."

While Shirley Beacom is thrilled with the support she's received -- including the signatures of more than 3,000 people in the state on a petition in favor of the bill -- she's still hoping that someone will come forward with information about the minivan that ended the life of her middle son.

"There is somebody out there who knows they did it," she said. "I don't know how they can live with the guilt. I still hurt. It's like somebody kicks me in the stomach every day of my life."

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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