A law to toughen criminal penalties on hit-and-run drivers inspired by a Fresno tragedy passed a major legislative hurdle Tuesday.

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Jim Patterson

“(This bill closes) a loophole and sort of change this perverse incentive to hit, run, kill and leave.” — Assemblyman Jim Patterson

The Assembly Public Safety Committee approved “Gavin’s Law” 5-0 with three members not present.

“(This bill closes) a loophole and sort of change this perverse incentive to hit, run, kill and leave,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) told the committee.

Driver Who Killed Gladding Already Out of Prison

Last year, Patterson won over a skeptical committee on enhancing the penalties for hit-and-run drivers.

Patterson proposed Gavin’s Law — AB 582 — in response to the 2018 death of Clovis Unified educator Gavin Gladding. He was killed while jogging on Friant Road, by a 19-year-old driver who fled the scene.

Upset about the lack of consequences for a driver not stopping when causing catastrophic injuries, Patterson pushed for the law.

Rogelio Alvarez Maravilla, who drove the truck that killed Gladding, received a three-year prison sentence. But the state released him a week ago after serving just one year.

Testimony From Gladding’s Wife Swayed Committee Chair

The committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), was inclined to spike the bill until he heard the testimony of Gladding’s widow, Susan Gladding.

“I’ve been on this committee for seven years. And, Mrs. Susan Gladding, you are the first witness that ever come before this committee that basically turned the committee through your compassionate, emotional testimony,” Jones-Sawyer said last year.

Jones-Sawyer, at the time, agreed to carry over the bill for consideration in 2020.

Portrait of the late Gavin Gladding

— Hit-and-run victim Gavin Gladding

Revised Bill

A year later, with some revisions, Patterson presented the bill again.

The new version of the bill reduced the penalties that Patterson initially sought. A hit-and-run driver causing serious injuries is subject to a minimum of two years and a maximum of four years in prison. That’s down from four-to-six years in last year’s version.

Similarly, causing death in a hit-and-run accident will bring three-to-six years in prison. Patterson previously had proposed six-to-eight years.

Gladding’s family was present at the hearing but did not speak.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) said he supported the bill because “if you have been drinking, it makes sense to run away rather than stay. We can’t allow that. This isn’t quite as much of a deterrent as you wanted, but I think it will help.”

The bill next heads to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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