OLYMPIA - Rep. Charles Ross views public safety as one of his legislative priorities, and his first bill as 14th District state representative reflects that: it would dramatically increase the penalties for drivers who attempt to elude law enforcement officers.
Ross (R-Naches) said the legislation he filed late last week is inspired by the tragic story of two young Yakima men, Bobby Aguilar and Edgar Mendoza. They died last fall after their car was struck by a vehicle that was being chased by police.
"Protecting citizens is one of the fundamental obligations of government, and as we've been reminded lately, in Yakima and over in Seattle, a car in the hands of someone trying to elude the police is a deadly weapon," said Ross, who took the oath of office Friday after being elected in November.
"I want criminals who see a patrol car's lights flashing in their rear view mirror to ask themselves, when they're deciding whether to hit the accelerator: is trying to outrun this officer worth a year in prison on top of any other sentence I might receive?"
Ross' legislation would establish a special allegation of "endangerment by eluding" in cases involving a charge of attempting to elude a police vehicle, where someone other than the criminal is threatened with physical injury or harm by the criminal action. It would be considered a crime against persons and a class B felony with a seriousness level of 3. The standard crime of eluding is seriousness level 1 and a class C felony.
His bill would allow imposing an additional 12-months-plus-1 to 24 months beyond the standard sentence range in cases of "endangerment by eluding" and require any enhancement to be consecutive, not concurrent, with any other sentence or enhancement imposed.
Also, a conviction for "endangerment by eluding" would make prior convictions for certain other vehicle-related crimes count double when figuring an offender score.
Ross' bill is named the "Guillermo 'Bobby' Aguilar and Edgar F. Trevino-Mendoza Public Safety Act of 2007."
His legislation, which was formally introduced last Friday, is the second and stronger measure against eluding that appeared in the House last week. Ross is a co-sponsor of the other bill, introduced last Monday by Longview Democrat Rep. Dean Takko.
"Because the Democrats have a supermajority in the House, and can pass any bill they like, some people asked me why I'm going ahead with a bill that has tougher penalties than what the Democrats have proposed," Ross said. "I think the question answers itself: I'm doing it because I believe the penalties should be tougher than the Democrats have proposed.
"Representative Takko's bill is a good step in the right direction. I'd like to take a bigger step in the right direction."