HIT and run accidents and the law

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A hit and run accident that raises questions about how well the legal system protects victims. State law says if someone leaves the scene of an injury accident, it's automatically a felony charge. But, KOTV found one case where it was not automatic, in fact, it was anything but.

Susan Barrett is still going to physical therapy three months after her car wreck. While driving on Peoria, someone slammed into her car from behind. "It was like a tilt a whirl, the scenery was going by. I had enough control to stop in front of a business on Peoria." Barrett and her daughter crawled out of their totaled car and called 911. "At that point, I realized, they left. I was shocked." Witnesses followed the car, got a tag number and the company name off the side. David Deatherage was charged with a misdemeanor and received six months probation.

Police reports show Mr. Deatherage was accused of another hit and run in the very same company vehicle just five months earlier. Witnesses say he slammed into the back of a woman and sped away. Those witnesses could put him in the car just moments before the accident, but, because they couldn't put him behind the wheel at the time of the accident, no charges were ever filed. Deatherage's employer's insurance company did pay for the damage to that woman's car, which was also totaled. Attorney, Bruce Powers, "Had he been charged in the first accident, would he have done this one? Who knows? It still could've happened, but, he would've gotten a much stiffer penalty if the first one had been charged."

Deatherage was charged in city court not state court, where the penalties might have been tougher, which puzzles State Representative John Smaligo of Owasso "If we could find what the glitch was in the prosecution, maybe we could fix it so things like this don't occur in the future." Barrett says she's not upset Deatherage didn't get jail time; she is upset he doesn't now have a felony on his record.

David Deatherage still works for the same company, KOTV called him there, and he declined to give KOTV a comment for the story.