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Auto repair shops could soon play a role in helping track down drivers of hit-and-run crashes that leave a victim seriously injured or dead.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, calls for the creation of an alert system to notify repair shops to be on the lookout for vehicles involved in a hit and run crash involving a serious injury or death within a certain time period after the incident occurred.

The Senate Law & Justice Committee on Tuesday approved the bill by an 11-0 vote. It now is in a position to be considered by the full Senate.

A hit and run crash that took the life of 8-year-old Jayanna Powell in 2016 when she was walking home from school in Philadelphia inspired her family to ask Williams to introduce this bill, the senator said.

“Jay alerts,” as Williams said they would be called to pay tribute to the girl, would contain a description of a vehicle that have fled the scene and be distributed to repair shops, which would be required to register with PennDOT.

“Repair shops will be put on notice that if someone comes within a certain period of time with damages to their car that were alerted by the state police, … that information would be advanced to the state police and then they would investigate those cars,” Williams said.

Sen. Anthony Williams discusses his 'Jay alert' bill

Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, speaks about this “Jay alert” bill at the Senate Law & Justice Committee meeting on Tuesday.
April 5, 2022
Screenshot from Pa. Senate website

If a shop is discovered as failing to report a vehicle matching the description of a vehicle in the alert system, the owner or operator of the shop could be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor.

Many repair shops already work with local law enforcement through an informal arrangement, said Amanda Henry, executive director of the Perry County-based Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Pennsylvania, which represents collision, towing and repair shops. But what is concerning about the bill is the severity of the penalty that the bill proposes for failure to report.

She said the owner or operator of a shop may not always be on site at their shop. If in their absence an employee does a repair without checking the alert system, “the owner could be charged with a pretty hefty deal.”

According to Williams’ bill, the American Automobile Association reports hit and run crashes result in 1,500 deaths in this country annually. It further points out that leaving the scene of an accident where the victim suffers serious bodily injury or death is a felony offense.

In Jayanna’s case, the driver of the vehicle that struck her had an accomplice take his vehicle to a repair facility 20 miles away from Philadelphia to evade detection, according to Williams’ memo about the bill.

The owner of that repair shop saw a news report about a reward being offered for information leading to the driver’s arrest, which led to police tracking him down, it states.

Williams said state police have some concerns about the cost and technology to implement such a notification system but he thinks both can be overcome.

The Pennsylvania State Police and PennDOT offered a statement about the bill, saying they “appreciate the intent behind Senate Bill 24. While we will continue to review the legislation, there are initial concerns that inserting a new alert in addition to the Amber Alert and Missing and Endangered Person Alert systems [which Pennsylvania is nationally recognized for implementing] could impact their overall effectiveness.”

Law & Justice Committee Chairman Mike Regan, R-Cumberland/York counties, said he sees the measure as being of assistance to law enforcement.

“I’ve seen it in my last law enforcement career where someone gets involved in an illegal hit and run and they try to go to a body shop and do a quick cash deal,” said Regan, a former U.S. marshal. “This kind of holds those body shops to account and I think ultimately will be a very good thing for our law enforcement community.”

* This post has been updated to include a statement from the state police.

Jan Murphy may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.

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