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Students praised for hit-and-run law

May 11, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Chris May's life was cut short two years ago when he was struck by a pickup truck while riding his bike near Shepherdstown.

But the Faith Christian Academy student's memory lives on in a tougher hit-and-run law which Gov. Cecil Underwood signed into law at the school Tuesday.

The 16-year-old basketball and soccer standout was riding his bike near the intersection of Bilmyer Road and W.Va. 45 on Sept. 24, 1997, when the driver of a pickup truck struck him and left the scene.

Barry C. Harper of Shepherdstown, W.Va., was later charged after he called police and admitted to his involvement in the fatal accident. Harper was eventually sentenced to 250 hours of community service and counseling after pleading guilty to fleeing the scene.


But the story didn't end there.

May's classmates researched the state fleeing laws as part of a school project and started a push for tougher sentencing guidelines.

Led by students Tim Helman and Mariah Snyder, the students gathered a petition containing 380 signatures of people supporting tougher penalties for the charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death or injury.

They turned the petition over to state lawmakers, who passed a tougher law during the recent session of the Legislature. It goes into effect June 13.

On Tuesday, Underwood signed the new law, which includes punishment of up to three years in the state penitentiary on conviction, according to attorney Laura Rose, who represented May's family.

Under the old law, the maximum punishment was up to a year in a county jail. Also, the old law carried a maximum fine of $500. The new law doubles that amount, Rose said.

Underwood and local lawmakers, including Sens. John Unger, D-Berkeley and Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, co-sponsors of the legislation, praised the students for their work in pushing the tougher law.

"You should never underestimate the power you have in the legislative process. What you have done is remarkable," said Del. Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley.

May's parents attended the ceremony at the school, which sits off W.Va. 45 just east of Martinsburg.

"It's overwhelming, actually," said May's mother, Roberta May.

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