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Victim's Daughter Seeks Stricter Hit-and-Run Penalties

Lindsay Benjamin has started an online petition to draw attention to punishments for hit-and-run drivers.

Lindsay and Jennifer Benjamin, with their mother Karen Benjamin. Courtesy photo.
Lindsay and Jennifer Benjamin, with their mother Karen Benjamin. Courtesy photo.
In the weeks following her mother's death, resulting from a hit-and-run accident on Canal Road in Mt. Sinai, Lindsay Benjamin has taken to the Internet to ensure the man reportedly involved in the crash stays put in jail, and future offenders receive stricter penalties for leaving the scene of fatal crashes.

Launching a petition on Change.org on Tuesday, Benjamin has collected over 2,100 signatures in less than two days, aiming toward end goal of 10,000 – though the signatures are just a start.

"There is power in numbers, and this isn't just about my family's case," said Benjamin, a 25-year-old aspiring singer. "It just takes one person to start this, and we can get a bunch of people to help."

She plans on taking the signatures to politicians, and has already started lobbying talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and others to run a feature about what she – and others – believe are lax punishments for hit-and-run drivers.

A spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota said recently that in charging Thomas Costa in the accident that eventually led to the death of Karen Benjamin, not enough evidence is available to sustain anything more than leaving the scene of an accident, a class E felony punishable by two and one-third to seven years in prison.

Costa, a parolee who had recently served time for a burglary, reportedly fled the scene of the June 23 accident on Canal Road, and wasn't caught until two weeks later after authorities said he hid the car at his parents' Mt. Sinai home. And because intoxication is a prerequisite for vehicular manslaughter – which brings a stricter penalty – prosecutors would be unable to prove any supposed intoxicated driving.

Costa remains held on $150,000 cash bail or $300,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty, and is due back in court on Sept. 9.

Spota has reportedly called for stricter penalties for leaving the scene of an accident, increasing the penalty to a five-to-15-year sentence, a class C felony. And legislators on the state level have acted in recent years as well, as New York State Senators unanimously passed a bill in 2012 boosting the crime to a class D felony. However, the bill has sat in the State Assembly Transportation Committee since May 21, 2012, and met the same fate a year prior. A request for comment from committee chair David Gantt, D-Rochester, was not immediately returned.

Meanwhile, Lindsay Benjamin – who described her mom as a funny, loving prankster who "lived to run" – is coping in part by seeking stronger penalties for hit-and-run drivers, which beyond Karen Benjamin's case, is not necessarily an uncommon case on congested Long Island roads. Just on Wednesday, Suffolk County Police alerted the public that it is still seeking the hit-and-run driver who killed a 29-year-old Centereach man in December.

"We are devastated," Benjamin said. "But we are mourning while we are doing this. And if this was me, I know my mom wouldn't wait around and wait for something to happen. This helps to fight for her, and hopefully we can do something good out of this."

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