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After Porter and Valdez, another hit and run death: Will justice treat her differently?

A young teacher behind the wheel hits four children crossing the street and drives away. Two are dead, two badly hurt. Prosecutors want prison, but she gets house arrest and probation.

A high school cheerleader fatally hits a homeless woman and keeps driving. Though the teenager very nearly ends up without even a traffic ticket, she is later charged. She gets probation.

So what's the right thing to do in the case of 21-year-old Amanda Bentz, who earlier this month fatally hit a man named Billy Ivy and drove away in a panic?

By now, we know an awful lot about the first-degree 30-year felony of leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

Those two notorious cases above — Jennifer Porter and Jordan Valdez — still resonate with questions about race, class, or both. And some will never understand why neither Porter nor Valdez was charged with killing someone — no matter how many times police and prosecutors explain that if the drivers had only stopped, no charges would have been filed.

That sometimes, people cross darkened streets outside of marked crosswalks.

And sometimes, an accident is just an accident.

The difference in these cases comes in what happened after. Porter's father wiped blood from her car, put it in a garage to "buy time," he later said, and later came forward with a lawyer.

Valdez's father called police the next day after he knew his daughter had been in a crash.

Bentz's father? He appears to have done the rightest of right things. As soon as she got to him, they went back to the scene, returning an hour after the crash.

She spoke to detectives, gave blood to test whether she had been drinking and cried. A Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman called her "totally cooperative."

"She faced up to it," her father told a reporter. "It was something she knew she had to do."

So ultimately, she did the right thing, right?

Here's the complication when it comes to justice in this case: The law is there in part to make the driver stop and help the person who is hurt. In Ivy's case, he died quickly. But a driver who leaves would not know that.

And the law says: You must stop.

None of this, by the way, can be easy for the family of Ivy, a professional painter who would have turned 43 had he lived another day.

But now the State Attorney's Office has a hard decision to make.

Does it send a message of zero tolerance that says: stop or get charged, period? Does it take into account that Bentz may not even have known she hit a person?

Do they give her credit for finally having done the right thing?

Me, non-cop, non-prosecutor, I would.

Bentz could get prison time if charged and convicted. You can say that would never happen. You can gamble on the sensibilities of a given judge, the thoroughness of a defense lawyer, the climate of the politics of the moment.

But what an injustice, for Bentz to fare worse than others who have gone down that same terrible road. Because this is what separates her case from the other leaving-the-scene tragedies: She came back.

Not knowing if she'd be arrested, Amanda Bentz came back.

After Porter and Valdez, another hit and run death: Will justice treat her differently? 03/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 11:07pm]
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