natasha_pettigrewNatasha Pettigrew was an experienced cyclist and triathlete.Photo: via TBDThe mother of Natasha Pettigrew, the Green Party candidate for Senate in Maryland who was killed by the driver of an SUV while riding her bike earlier this week, is mourning the loss of her daughter. 

Pettigrew’s mother, Kenniss Henry, is also worrying that the driver of the SUV will get off easy.

That driver, Christy Littleford, claimed that she thought she hit an animal. She dragged Pettigrew’s bicycle under her car for miles before parking in her garage, and only called police hours later — when she said she finally saw the bike still wedged under her heavily damaged vehicle.

According to a report on ABC 7 News (via TBD), Henry is right to be concerned that the hit-and-run won’t be prosecuted:

Traffic safety experts consider the state’s statutes on vehicular manslaughter among the most lenient in the country. A prosecutor must prove gross negligence or some kind of intent to kill or maim in order to charge and convict.

“Virtually no one is charged with this crime, because proving it is so hard in court,” said John Townsend of AAA MidAtlantic.

Pettigrew’s mother is calling for stiff penalties for drivers who hit and run:

“If you shoot someone and you kill them — what is the difference between taking a life that way and, you know, hitting somebody?” Henry asked.

This case is getting national attention because of Pettigrew’s status as a political candidate, but there are many others like it.

In North Carolina, a woman who was heavily medicated after surgery chose to drive, hit and killed a bicyclist, and drove away. When someone noticed her caved-in windshield, she said she hit a deer.

Police pursued the matter, and ultimately she pleaded guilty. She faced a possible sentence of 66 months, but will only serve 14 to 17 months.

Which brings us back to the question of why killing someone with a motor vehicle is so often treated as merely an unfortunate “accident.” In many states, drivers who kill and remain at the scene are rarely charged with any crime if drugs and alcohol aren’t involved — even if they have violated traffic laws.

In the words of Natasha Pettigrew’s friend, John Clendinin: “When are people going to start caring about human life?”