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Law passed in name of cyclist killed in accident

April 12, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Danny Kneisly was only a quarter-mile from his Arden, W.Va., home when he met his death on a motorcycle.

Kneisly was riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to the gym when a vehicle turned in front of his bike, in front of a tractor sales and repair shop.

The 73-year-old motorist received a $20 traffic citation for failing to yield in the September 2004 accident.

Kneisly's wife, Jeannie, and two local motorcycle groups decided it was time to push for tougher penalties for motorists involved in similar incidents.

The result was Danny's Law, in which state lawmakers this year established penalties for careless driving causing unintentional death or serious bodily injury.

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The original bill called for the charge to be a felony, but some delegates felt the penalties were too harsh for careless driving. Kneisly's wife and others continued to push for the law during this year's 60-day session.

The new law carries a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail if a pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist is injured or killed and the driver is proved to have been reckless. A second offense - even if a person is not injured - brings the same punishment for a driver.

A first offense without injury brings up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.

"It sends a message to drivers that while you're on the road, you have the responsibility to be aware," said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who helped draft the bill.

The law also allows victims to collect financial assistance for medical bills, said Sen. Jon Hunter, D-Monongalia.

Since most drivers were not charged with a crime, injured people could not dip into the state's assistance program, which usually covered only victims of violent crimes.

"That's been a problem when people have gotten hit," Hunter said. "The drivers were just given a ticket, and then (the victims) had to pay for their own bills."

Jeannie Kneisly said Tuesday she is glad the bill became law.

Jeannie Kneisly sat through legislative committee meetings in Charleston, W.Va., as the issue was discussed and members of two local motorcycle clubs - South Berkeley County Riders and the Eastern Panhandle chapter of ABATE - also went to Charleston to push for the tougher penalties, Kneisly said.

"Nothing's going to bring Danny back. But it's nice to have a bill in his name," Jeannie Kneisly said.

Kneisly said she and Danny had been high school sweethearts and were married for 25 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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