City and police officials from Trotwood and Dayton testified this week before the Ohio House of Representatives in support of legislation that would enact tougher laws and penalties for those convicted of “hooning” on public streets.
House Bill 56, which is co-sponsored by Republican Ohio Reps. Phil Plummer and Andrea White, would specifically prohibit participating in and spectating at a hooning event, which can include street racing, performing donuts, burnouts, and drifting.
The draft bill was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. No vote was held Tuesday and the bill remains active in the committee.
Mayor Mary McDonald, City Manager Quincy Pope, Trotwood Chief of Police Erik Wilson, Dayton Police Chief Kamran Afzal, Trotwood Fire Chief Richard Haacke, and Dayton Unit NAACP President Derrick Foward, along with law directors for the city of Trotwood, gave testimony during the Tuesday Criminal Justice Committee session. Dayton Mayor Jeff Mims was also present for the hearing.
“Hooning has become a nuisance to the police and, unfortunately, the current tools and laws in place are simply not sufficient for the risks associated with these types of incidents,” McDonald testified. “Hooning is also a nuisance to law-abiding citizens, (who) while going about their daily business ... could inadvertently encounter one of these incidents which could change their life forever.”
Current laws that can be used to prosecute hooning and similar reckless driving behaviors include obstructing official business, disorderly conduct, obstruction of intersections, and operating in a willful, wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.
Wilson said these laws lack the fortitude to adequately deter and punish the specific act of hooning. During his testimony, Wilson stressed the importance of a part of the bill that would allow for vehicles involved in hooning incidents to be impounded.
Individuals participating in “flash mob” hooning events typically flee the scene prior to or as a result of police response. Through the use of traffic cameras, officers are often able to identify specific vehicles involved.
But Wilson said some perpetrators will use falsified license plates in an attempt to conceal their ownership of the often easily-identifiable vehicles.
“Too many times, we’ve had somebody flee from us, and we’ve (identified) the vehicle, but not the driver. This (bill) would allow us to (say), ‘I want this vehicle off this roadway regardless of who is in that car,’” Wilson said.
Vehicles used during hooning events are often designer vehicles with elaborate, and expensive, modifications. Wilson said the risk of having a vehicle impounded may serve as a better deterrent for perpetrators than the typical punishment of fines.
Written testimony was also submitted by Larry Coleman, grandfather of Allison Oliver, a 31-year-old woman who was killed as a result of a four-vehicle hit-and-run crash in Dayton last June. Coleman shared his granddaughter’s story in support of the bill.
“She was a shining light,” Coleman, who was not present during Tuesday’s hearing, said in his written testimony. “The heart’s desire of our entire family at this point is that the tragic death of Allison prompts something to be legally done to help ensure fewer families have to endure the pain our family has had to endure because of reckless driving.”
Lawmakers asked for clarification on some parts of the proposed bill, including how spectators of hooning events would be treated under the law.
“Are we looking to also seize spectators vehicles?” asked Vice Chair Rep. Josh Williams, R-Oregon. “A very aggressive prosecutor could use our complicity statute for aiding and abetting to say you get sentenced as a principal offender, and now we’re seizing vehicles that we may not intend to.”
Questions were also raised regarding the language used to define hooning.
“We’re not talking about speeding or even reckless driving; we’re talking about a new offense,” said Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who noted the bill contains conflicting language regarding the definition of hooning and the way it may be prosecuted.
The bill outlines hooning as including a requisite of purposeful provocation of spectator reaction while also categorizing the offense under strict liability, which under Ohio Revised Code means that culpability is not required in order for a person to be found guilty, a combination Seitz says is contradictory.
“(This means) the offender must intend to provoke, (which) is an intense standard that is completely incompatible with strict liability,” Seitz said.
The bill would increase the penalty of willfully eluding or fleeing a police officer from a first-degree misdemeanor to a fourth-degree felony. If the flight was immediately after the commission of a felony, the bill increases the penalty from a fourth-degree felony to a third-degree felony.
It also would create a new offense of hooning, which would be a first-degree misdemeanor for those participating, and an unclassified misdemeanor for those spectating.
Legislators will work to iron out issues within the bill highlighted during Tuesday’s session, said Committee Chair Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison.
“You can tell with all the questions today from the various members that we’re on a continual process of working this bill out ... to come to a product that everyone can vote yes on,” she said.
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