(March, 26, 2021) On Feb. 22, 2016, Wade Pusey’s life changed forever.
Then just 23 years old, the Seaford, Delaware, resident and road worker was permanently injured in a collision on a Worcester County road. But because of the limits of the state law, the driver of the vehicle who hit him faced only a $500 traffic citation for the offense.
This unjust penalty — as Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38 C) described it — prompted lawmakers to begin fighting roughly four years ago to impose stricter penalties on driving offenses that result in life-altering injuries.
And it look as though their hard work is paying off.
This week, versions of Wade’s Law – which would establish these types of driving offenses as criminal negligence, raise the penalty to up to 18 months in prison and the fine to $5,000 — passed both the House and Senate, gearing it up for final passage by the end of the 2021 session.
“The daily struggles that I have faced over the past five years allow me to remember how important the passing of this law will be for the state of Maryland,” Wade Pusey said this week via email. “Being a resident of Maryland [it is] critical to show the public how important it is to drive safely because it, too, could be their family or friends that are affected by negligent driving. With the passing of this law, more people will be protected if a terrible accident like this were to happen to them.”
Sharon Pusey, Wade’s mother, testified during the bill’s hearing and said via email that the legislation process has been difficult, as it has forced her family to relive the day of the crash each year, but she is happy to see Wade’s Law moving forward.
“The passing of this bill to increase penalties and potential jail time could help others who, sadly, in the future may have something similar happen to them,” she said. “We are all hopeful for the bill to be passed this year to protect future families in Maryland.”
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), who first introduced Wade’s Law in 2017 as a House delegate, said in a news release that she was grateful to everyone who helped move it to a vote in the Senate. She called the law “common sense public safety legislation” that will provide a “just penalty” for offenders like the driver who injured Pusey.
Hartman has also worked to help pass Wade’s Law and said it required a large last-minute push to bring it to a vote in the House before Monday’s crossover deadline. He added that the final version that passed that chamber reduced the penalty from 18 months to 12.
“I feel the 18 months is certainly just considering the impact on somebody’s life,” Hartman said. “I mean one person that testified … she’s permanently in a wheelchair — that sentence will never change.”
Like Pusey, Je’Ani Lyles suffered life-threatening injuries in June 2018 because of a criminally negligent driver. During a hearing on that bill, her mother, Carla Ortiz, described the horror of the crash, in which her daughter suffered a severing of her T8 vertebrae, and had to endure multiple surgeries and paralysis from the chest down.
Ortiz also pleaded for a more just penalty to hold those who are criminally negligent responsible for their actions. The driver who hit Pusey, Marion Jones, ultimately faced a stricter penalty because the crash killed Pusey’s coworker, Scott Tatterson. He faced no charges for injuring Pusey.
On the day of the crash, the vehicle Jones was driving careened into a work site as Pusey and Tatterson were exiting their county dump truck. Jones was reportedly trying to drive around the site by exiting the travel lane but swerved back to avoid an oncoming vehicle and struck both workers.
“Looking back on the day of Wade’s accident, all I can say is we are so thankful to have him here with us today’s” said Allison Pusey, Wade’s wife, via email. “Wade currently works full-time for Worcester County Public Works for the Solid Waste Division as an equipment operator. It amazes me each day to see how far Wade has come in the past five years. Wade is thriving, strong, and brave to have overcome something so terrible. Wade has adapted to his new way of life since the accident and is able to live his life to his new normal.”