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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mother of hit-and-run victim testifies at House hearing on stiffer penalties

“If he [hit-and-run driver Carlos Julián Maldonado Dávila] had taken another action to take responsibility, I wouldn’t be here,” said Jenniffer Rivera López, mother of fatal hit-and-run victim Natalia Nicole Ayala Rivera. (Tammy Olivencia)

By The Star Staff

The Judiciary Committee of the island House of Representatives on Wednesday took up two measures that seek to impose harsher penalties for people convicted of “hit and run” accidents.

House Bill 1957 would amend the Vehicle and Traffic Act (Act 22- 2000) and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Reorganization Plan (2011) for the purpose of making the imposition of supervision mandatory and eliminating deferred bail for the crime of fleeing after an accident resulting in serious bodily harm or death to a person.

House Bill 1958 seeks to exclude probation or release to evidence as an alternative to extinguish the fixed sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment in such cases.

During the public hearing, the testimony of Jenniffer Rivera López, mother of hit-and-run victim Natalia Nicole Ayala Rivera, called for approval of both bills.

On Nov. 9, 2023, Carlos Julián Maldonado Dávila was sentenced to a 10-year suspended sentence for the hit and run that caused Ayala Rivera’s death.

“This person took my daughter’s life. He goes on the run after taking this life. He goes to a [police] barracks to make up a story … so that [he does] not [have to] take responsibility for what happened,” said Rivera López, who was accompanied by Edwin Serrallés, Ayala Rivera’s stepfather.

“If he had taken another action to take responsibility, I wouldn’t be here,” Rivera López said. “This is an accident that can happen to anyone, but it’s the action.”

Ariana Peña of the Traffic Safety Commission said she favored both pieces of legislation and agreed that they are analogous to the efforts of the agency.

“It is necessary to revisit and attend to the legal provisions that regulate this type of traffic collision so that, by imposing more [responsibility] on [them], those people who, after being involved in a traffic accident, don’t leave the scene,” she said.

Yahaira Colón Rodríguez, director of the Special Affairs Division of the Puerto Rico Legal Aid Society, did not favor the approval of the measures.

“We believe that both bills have no justification or basis to continue aggravating the rule of law by promoting the prolonged incarceration of a citizen who can comply with his criminal responsibility and the consequences of the accused acts without having to be imprisoned,” Colón Rodríguez said in a written statement.

The attorney added that despite the state’s interest in safeguarding the safety of people who are victims of traffic accidents, the proposed measures do not advance the intention nor do they correctly address “hit and run” cases.

“Given the existence of more civilized alternatives than prolonged confinement to address regrettable situations in which any citizen may be involved, we cannot support the approval of legislative measures that from the beginning only seek excessive penalization and punishment,’’ she said. ‘’Crime and the need to improve the quality of life are social problems that cannot be solved by aggravating sentences or increasing our prison population.”

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