In order to establish a more effective emergency alert system for hit-and-run accidents, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Chaparro, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel R. Benson, Angelica Jimenez, Raj Mukherji and Joann Downey was unanimously advanced by the full Assembly Thursday.
The legislation commemorates the life of Zackhary Simmons, a 21-year-old man who died in Hoboken in June of 2016 after being hit by a vehicle that subsequently left the scene.
“I hope this bill reminds drivers thinking of fleeing an accident that the whole state will be looking for you, and you will be caught,” said Chaparro (D-Hudson). “I want to thank the Simmons family for working so hard on this bill and sharing their time and inspiring this legislation to honor Zack and encourage other drivers to stop and help an injured person instead of cowardly fleeing a scene.”
The bill (A-1477), to be known as “Zackhary’s Law,” would establish an alert system to facilitate the apprehension of someone who knowingly flees the scene of a motor vehicle accident that results in another person’s death or serious bodily injury. Similar to the Amber and Silver Alert systems already in place, the Zack Alert system would be a voluntary, cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies, transportation agencies and the media.
“With so many other drivers on the road actively looking for one car, it’s almost inevitable that someone who sees a Zack Alert would come across the suspect,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Drivers will have to think twice about leaving the scene of an accident if they know there’s such a high likelihood of eventually being caught.”
“In the case of a serious automobile accident, the driver of the vehicle may be the person in the best position to call for help. That call may save someone’s life,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Leaving the victim of an accident alone is wrong, and perpetrators of this crime ought to know that an entire community is working together to prevent them from getting away with it.”
“Often a hit-and-run is the product of a motorist first not caring enough to drive safely and respect the rules of the road and then not caring enough to stop when that recklessness causes someone harm. That driver needs to be identified and taken off the road as soon as possible,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen, Hudson). “The Zack Alert system would provide a low-cost common-sense means of apprehending those who leave the scene of an accident.”
“Using the eyes and ears of the public to locate a culprit has become a successful and critical tool for law enforcement,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “With Zack Alert, reckless drivers will know you will not get far after committing a hit-and-run in New Jersey.”
“The Zack Alert, like the AMBER Alert, activates the community to alert law enforcement and bring the offender to justice,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident where someone is hurt is a selfish and shameful act. The Zack Alert will help to ensure that the irresponsible driver will be caught and will face the consequences.”
Under the bill, the attorney general would notify the media serving New Jersey of the system and invite them to participate. In the event of an accident, a Zack Alert may be activated when a law enforcement agency confirms that someone was killed or seriously injured in a hit-and-run and the agency has sufficient information available to indicate that an alert would assist in locating the suspect.
Upon declaration of a Zack Alert, the law enforcement agency would immediately notify the Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority. Any media outlet that participates in the Zack Alert system would voluntarily agree to transmit alerts to inform the public that a person has been suspected of causing serious bodily injury to, or the death of, another person by knowingly leaving the scene of the accident.
Additionally, text message alerts would automatically be issued to every officer or employee of a public entity who possesses a mobile phone issued by a public entity.
The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.