Local News

Family Of UNC Reporter Wants Changes In Hit-And-Run Laws

Posted November 18, 2004

— UNC sports radio reporter Stephen Gates was hit and killed on the side of Interstate 40 last year. His parents' anguish increased last week when a jury found the man charged in his death not guilty. Now, Gates' parents are now calling on a change in state law.

George and Pat Gates were seeking justice in the death of their son, Stephen, but they did not get it. Last week, Rabah Samara went on trial for felony hit-and-run.

The evidence showed Emily Caveness was actually driving the SUV on I-40 that hit and killed Gates, but Samara switched seats with her and drove away. A jury found Samara not guilty.

"Right now, it appears from the law you can just switch drivers and drive away and therefore you haven't fulfilled all the elements required for hit-and-run," said Pat Gates, Stephen's mother.

The elements as the law is written only apply to the driver, not a passenger who takes over the wheel. The Gates family wants to make sure if there is a similar hit-and-run, someone would be held responsible.

The family has already recruited the help of newly elected state representative Pricey Harrison, who said she wants to act immediately.

"I think it was a terrible miscarriage of justice," she said.

Orange County District Attorney Carl Fox also wants the loophole closed. He plans to draft a proposal for lawmakers that would include passengers. The Gates family said it is encouraged by those developments.

"Our efforts to change this law is the best we could do for Stephen," said George Gates, Stephen's father.

"We really want to move on and do something positive and constructive," said Pat Gates.

Joe Hackney, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, heard about the loophole in the Gates case. He said when a bill is introduced, he expects the committee to look at the law and decide whether changes need to be made.

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