Fatal accident spurs push to change truck law

Steps are being taken to close a loophole that allowed a driver to evade a charge of causing death or injury while not properly licensed.

By: Linda Seida
   Lawmakers and lawyers alike were stunned last summer when an improperly licensed truck driver was found innocent of a felony charge in the death of a New Hope newlywed, thanks to a legal loophole.
   Two legislators, state Sen. Joe Conti, R-10th, and Rep. Bernie O’Neill, R-29th, now are taking action to close the loophole that allowed the driver to evade the charge of causing death or injury while not properly licensed. A Bucks County judge ruled the current law does not apply to commercial drivers licenses.
   Dump truck driver Renee Moore of Bensalem, who was 27 at the time of the accident in 2002, also was charged with possession of marijuana, for which she received a sentence of 15 to 30 days in Bucks County Prison.
   The dump truck collided with a car driven by Gwen Taylor Alper, 49, who died in the collision. The accident occurred at the intersection of Windy Bush Road, also known as Route 232, and Pidcock Creek Road in Solebury Township.
   The day of the accident, Oct. 31, Ms. Moore was driving the truck for her employer, M.J. Connolly Paving, a contractor in Feasterville, Pa., owned by Mike Connolly. The contractor was not charged.
   "I was outraged when I saw it in the paper," Rep. O’Neill said. "Quite frankly, I don’t think any family should go through what this family went through."
   Rep. O’Neill introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would close the loophole. Sen. Conti simultaneously introduced a similar bill into the Pennsylvania state Senate, which was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee and received bipartisan support in the Senate.
   "We need to change the law, and Rep. O’Neill and I plan to change it soon," Sen. Conti said. "We cannot allow a loophole to exist where drivers who operate trucks illegally and irresponsibly can injure or kill people and not be punished. It’s a dangerous precedent, and it needs to be fixed."
   When Rep. O’Neill and Sen. Conti met with lawyers and representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, they learned not everyone believes there is a loophole, Rep. O’Neill said.
   "They don’t understand the legal decision the judge made," he said.
   The proposed legislation, with a few changes of wording, would make the law less open to interpretation, according to Rep. O’Neill.
   "It’s more legal language to tighten the so-called anticipated loophole," he said. "Loopholes like this, you don’t know until a tragedy happens. That’s what’s sad about the whole thing."