The state's General Assembly passed the bill 78-0 on Thursday. A Senate version of the bill passed that chamber earlier this year.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. James Holzapfel and Assembly members David Wolfe and Gregory P. McGuckin (all R-Ocean) would bring the penalties for leaving the scene of a boating accident that results in the serious injury or death of a person involved in line with the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident on a roadway.
As it stands now, while illegal, there is no set penalty for such an offense under state law, which means someone convicted of leaving the scene would face no more than a $25 fine.
The effort to strengthen penalties picked up steam in the wake of a fatal boating accident in Brick that claimed the life of Robert Post, an Essex Fells resident who owned a summer home in Point Pleasant Borough.
In the case, a Brick man, Anthony DiGilio, then 29, was charged with operating his 27-foot Imperial performance boat recklessly and then speeding away from the scene of the accident. Though his damaged boat was recovered and he eventually faced vehicular homicide charges, DiGilio was found not guilty in April 2013.After the jury's verdict, interest in strengthening the "leaving the scene" law spiked and the bill – held up for years in the state legislature – began to move.
Under the proposed law, if an accident results in serious bodily injury, a person who leaves the scene could face a third degree criminal charge, punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. If the accident results in a person's death, the charge would be upgraded to the second degree, bringing with it a potential five to 10 year prison term and a fine of up to $250,000.
The bill will now become law if Christie chooses to sign it.
“Boaters are responsible for their craft and searching for other injured parties if an accident should occur," said McGuckin. "This bill will strengthen the boating laws in New Jersey to ensure that the crimes of negligent boaters will no longer go unrecognized."