Cyclist's death may prompt tougher hit-and-run laws

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SARASOTA-- The 2012 death of a Miami cyclist may prompt state lawmakers to implement tougher hit-and-run laws.

In February, Aaron Cohen was killed while riding his bike from Miami to Key Biscayne. The driver who hit the father of two, fled the scene. Michele Traverso did not turn himself in until the next evening. Investigators suspected he was driving drunk, due to a number of receipts from local bars. Yet, because he fled and was not taken in to police custody until the next evening, a blood test could not be administered. Traverso was sentenced to just one year behind bars, upsetting Cohen's friends, family and the Miami cycling community.

As a result, Cohen's supporters have asked lawmakers to pass the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act. The bill would implement minimum mandatory sentences for those who leave the scene of a crash that results in injuries.

According to the Act, if a person flees and someone is injured, the minimum mandatory sentence will be three years behind bars. If a serious injury occurs, or death, the fleeing suspect will have to serve a mandatory seven or ten year sentence.

"I think there should be stricter punishments," said Rich Linkenhoker, a cyclist and manager of Ryder Bikes in Sarasota. "It's absolutely terrible (when someone leaves the scene). I don't know how humans can treat other humans that way."

Sarasota criminal defense attorney David Haenel cites concerns over the possible legislation, including prison overcrowding.

"Any injury would result in someone going to prison for three years. I can tell you, there are a lot of cases where someone is charged with leaving the scene and a couple of days later, someone may claim they are injured. Now, someone is looking at three years if the state attorney up-files that charge. That's a very slippery slope," said Haenel.

Several south Florida legislators are already on board supporting the act. They will make their case in Tallahassee this March.