Stricter Penalties Are Needed in Hit-and-Run Cases, Relatives of Victims Say

Patti Cohen and Adonay Rosete believe a new law with stricter penalties would help

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    Patti Cohen and Adonay Rosete believe a new law with stricter penalties would help prevent hit-and-runs. (Published Saturday, March 30, 2013)

    Today, Patti Cohen is raising her two small children by herself.

    Last year, a car hit her husband Aaron Cohen while he was riding his bike on the Rickenbacker Causeway. The driver never stopped.

    Driver Sentenced in Fatal Rickenbacker Hit-and-Run

    [MI] Driver Sentenced in Fatal Rickenbacker Hit-and-Run
    Michele Traverso is sentenced to 364 days in jail in the Rickenbacker Causeway hit-and-run that killed bicyclist Aaron Cohen. Cohen's wife Patti and father Stephen react to the sentence. (Published Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013)

    Michele Traverso could have been sentenced to as much as 35 years behind bars. Instead, he got 364 days, to be followed by two years of supervision, after he pleaded guilty.

    That hit and run was one of about 20,000 in South Florida last year.

    Miami Runners Remember Aaron Cohen

    [MI] Miami Runners Remember Aaron Cohen
    More than 100 people gathered on the Rickenbacker Causeway Thursday night to remember Aaron Cohen, 36, a cyclist who died of his injuries the day after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. (Published Friday, Feb. 17, 2012)

    “I almost can't read about them anymore because they hit so close to home,” Cohen said. “I know what those people's families are going with."

    But change may be coming. On Tuesday Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz is introducing a resolution asking the state legislature to make penalties stricter on hit-and-run drivers – making it a second-degree felony with a minimum of seven years behind bars, and 10 years if the hit-and-run results in a person's death.

    Cohen hopes that by working with other cyclists in the area, stricter penalties will be enforced in South Florida and across the state – with a law named after her husband.

    “If you had stricter laws, I think it would prevent a lot of this,” said Gary Mendenhall, who works at the bike business J&B Importers. “Right now it’s so hit and miss as far as what charges people are getting. It encourages this kind of behavior. If you had strict laws, you would definitely see a decrease."

    The man who was driving the car that hit and killed 11-year-old Ashley Valdes in 2009 was sentenced to six years in prison. Her mother also believes a new law would help.

    “People out there have to know that this is not going to get a slap on the hand," Adonay Rosete said. “People are not taking lives seriously. I lost my daughter, but her life is not going to be in vain. I'm going to the end of my days to try and make a change."

    On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., a memorial ride will be held for Miguel Rocafort. It will be one year since he was struck after a hit and run.

    On March 31, 2012 a car struck Rocafort as he was riding his bike in southwest Miami-Dade. The driver did not stop, and several days later Rocafort passed away due to injuries he sustained in the crash, authorities said.

    The driver has never been found.

    The ride will start and finish at the old Signature Gardens building and parking lot, located at 12725 SW 122nd Ave.