Hoosier grandfather fights for stronger child seat laws

Politics
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Two months after the tragic death of his granddaughter, an Indiana man is fighting for tougher sentencing provisions for people who don’t properly restrain children in their car seats.

James Wallace’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Heavenlee-Angel Johns, was critically injured in a crash near Terre Haute in December, 2009. She died from complications last year. She was eight years old.

Her grandfather said her injuries were painful, the result of not being properly restrained in a car seat.

“Her head came down between her knees, crushed her spinal cord and caused paralysis,” Wallace said. “And the driver of the car, who was responsible for her, only got a $25 fine.”

Wallace wants to change that. Since the accident, he’s been begging state legislators to change the law so sentences are more severe, forcing parents to get the message.

“I made a promise to her on Christmas Day after the accident that I would see that we get some justice for her,” Wallace said. “And three years later, I have yet to see anything.”

“I think that’s one reason we want to pass this law, to send a message,” said State Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute.

Kersey is the author of House Bill 1095, which makes it a felony if your child is injured or killed in accident when they are not properly restrained.

“I think a $25 fine for not doing that is just not enough, if it results in a child being hurt, or death,” Kersey said.

But every year he’s filed the bill, it hasn’t gone anywhere.

“This is one of those things where you just keep trying,” Kersey said.

“I would never want to see anybody go through that again, especially when the driver was literally given a $25 fine, and told, ‘You’re a bad driver, don’t do that again,’” Wallace said. “Meanwhile, Heavenlee lies in the ground.”

The head of the Roads & Transportation Committee tells Fox59 that his committee won’t consider the bill this year. He thinks it could be an issue for the judiciary committee instead, as lawmakers continue to look at the possibility of revising the entire criminal code.

“Our anger is at our legislators, now knowing there’s a loophole in the law, they have decided it’s more important to focus on things like cursive writing in school,” Wallace said. “If it takes another decade, so be it. Our goal is to make sure that drivers are held accountable.”

“This is one of those things where you just keep trying,” Kersey said.

“I would never want to see anybody go through that again, especially when the driver was literally given a $25 fine, and told, ‘You’re a bad driver, don’t do that again,’” Campbell said. “Meanwhile, Heavenlee lies in the ground.”

The head of the Roads & Transportation Committee tells Fox59 that his committee won’t consider the bill this year. He thinks it could be an issue for the judiciary committee instead, as lawmakers continue to look at the possibility of revising the entire criminal code.

“Our anger is at our legislators, now knowing there’s a loophole in the law, they have decided it’s more important to focus on things like cursive writing in school,” Campbell said. “If it takes another decade, so be it. Our goal is to make sure that drivers are held accountable.”

Wallace has set up a blog, detailing his family’s journey.

You can also see how Indiana’s laws and fines compare to other states.

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