One of the most difficult situations for the families of fatal accident victims is a hit-and-run crash. Regardless of how the accident happens or who’s at fault, drivers are obligated to stop after the impact to check on the welfare of everyone else involved. Those who fail to do so put injured victims at risk of death, and put themselves at risk of criminal charges.

Some drivers who leave the scene of an accident attempt to defend themselves by claiming they didn’t know they hit a person. This was the argument of a western Pennsylvania man who recently pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an accident that happened seven years ago. He was driving on a local road when he “thought he hit a speed bump,” according to police. He had actually run over a bicyclist who was already lying in the road after hitting a construction barrel. But he left the scene, later admitting to authorities that when he looked in his rearview mirror after the impact, he saw a body “laying on his back.”

He was arrested after the accident but the criminal charges against him were dismissed after his defense attorneys argued that the state couldn’t prove the bicyclist was alive when the driver hit him. An Indiana County judge dismissed the case and the Superior Court upheld the decision. But the state Supreme Court overturned the ruling, arguing that it didn’t matter whether the bicyclist was alive or dead when the driver hit him. He still should have stopped to check and attempt to render aid to the man before alerting police.

Last week the man pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor hit-and-run charge, a decision that the victim’s family says gives them some closure. It’s not clear whether they’ve filed a civil lawsuit against the man — something they’re well within their rights to do, with or without a guilty plea — but they can at least be at peace knowing that the driver finally accounted for his actions.

Source: The Sentinel, “Pa. man pleads to hit-run in 2005 cyclist’s death,” May 6, 2012