Mother's effort ends in Jason's Law

It requires driver drug test after all fatal accidents

May 30, 2004|By Patrick Tyler | Patrick Tyler,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT - More than two years of struggle ended last week for Hilde Carter of Port Deposit when a bill named in honor of her late son, Jason, was signed into law in Annapolis on Wednesday afternoon.

Jason was walking along Conowingo Road in Cecil County in January 2001 when a car driven by a man under the influence of alcohol and Percocet jumped the curb and hit him, according to Carter. Jason was 16.

Carter said that police misinterpreted the results of a Breathalyzer test of the driver. Consequently, there was no record of the driver being intoxicated. Carter fought through appeals and trials, and eventually the man was convicted of reckless driving.

Carter's frustration prompted her to draft a bill with the help of her lawyer, Keith Franz.

"I didn't want somebody else to go through what I went through," she said.

Jason's Law will take effect in October. It will require police to administer breath tests or blood tests, or both, to drivers involved in fatal or life-threatening accidents.

It was not easy to get passed, however. Carter said she lobbied for 2 1/2 years to get the bill through the General Assembly.

Her first attempt was in 2002 with backing of then-Sen. Walter M. Baker, a Democrat who represented the Upper Eastern Shore, including Cecil County. The bill never came to a vote.

Baker was not re-elected in 2002, but Carter got new backing from Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford Republican. Jacobs brought the bill to the legislature last year, but it died in committee because of financial concerns. All blood tests are sent out of state, and legislators believed that it would be too costly to operate a large-scale program that required so much transit.

This year, Carter and Jacobs amended the bill and found funding for the construction of a testing center in Maryland. Carter spent months gathering the $800,000 necessary for the construction from a variety of sources, eventually gaining a large sum from the state police. The bill was almost neglected again, but Jacobs persevered.

"I had everyone calling the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee [Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a Prince George's Democrat] to ask him for a vote," said Jacobs. In the final days of the session, the bill was passed unanimously in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

Many of those involved feel that Carter is the reason for the bill's success.

"This is the bill I've worked the hardest on and the most important bill I've passed," said Jacobs on Thursday, "and Hilde is the reason I pushed so hard. I wanted the bill for her and Jason."

Franz is equally respectful. "This is the first time that a personally affected advocate has single-handedly convinced the legislature to change the laws," he said.

Carter described the signing ceremony as overpowering.

In the future, Carter, a nursing student, plans to work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and possibly take victims advocacy classes.

"I am also going to work on a new bill," she said, though she does not know what she will choose to work on yet.

"I just need a little bit of time to think about things," she said.

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