Feb 23. 2007
Indianapolis: Teen's bill passes House vote
INDIANAPOLIS -- A bill inspired by the circumstances surrounding the death of an Elkhart County teen passed the Indiana House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 98-0.
House Bill 1521 holds any uninjured vehicle passengers who are 15 years old or older accountable if they do not report an accident where a life is in danger. Failure to report such a situation would result in a Class C misdemeanor, punishable with up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
State Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, filed the legislation at the request of the parents of Thomas Hoopingarner Jr., 17, who died in a car accident in Noble County in November 2005. Two 15-year-old passengers in Thomas' vehicle, which was upside down in a pond, left the scene and did not report the accident to anyone.
"Although I wish they never had to go through this incident, I hope passage of the bill provides some measure of comfort for the Hoopingarner family," Neese said.
The bill, which now moves on to the Senate, also specifies required procedures for county coroners.
Elkhart: Mandatory training to take place
INDIANAPOLIS -- Valentine's Day evolved into "Victory Day" for Tom and Judy Hoopingarner, mending, at least a bit, the parents' broken hearts.
"I'm ecstatic," Judy Hoopingarner said late Wednesday afternoon, while on the way from Indianapolis back home to New Paris.
"This was a very, very good day."
A unanimous vote of the 11-member House of Representative's Courts and Criminal Code Committee propels legislation to the full House that was spawned by the death of Thomas Hoopingarner.
State Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, authored legislation requiring uninjured vehicle passengers to summon help for hurt or trapped drivers.
Thomas Hoopingarner, son of Judy and Tom, died Nov. 19, 2005, while trapped in his upside-down, submerged car in a Noble County pond. Two teen passengers left Thomas, the 17-year-old driver, and did not seek help for him, police have said.
"We took a big step forward," Neese said, regarding the unanimous committee vote. He credited committee chairman Phil Hoy, D-Evansville, and Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, with help in pushing the bill out of committee.
Neese's bill regarding vehicle passenger responsibility was merged with HB 1521, co-authored by Reps. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute; Moses; Michael Ripley, R-Monroe; and David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake. That bill detailed coroner standards.
The bill, now known as HB 1521, will "very likely go on the House agenda Monday for second reading and then presumably a vote Tuesday or Thursday," Neese said.
"I told the Hoopingarners that a lot of possibilities could still occur when the bill goes to the full House, but we're very positive."
Neese has two, possibly three, senators lined up to sponsor the legislation in the Senate, including Marvin Riegsecker, R-Goshen and Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen.
Wicked winter weather impeded the ability of several people to make the trip to Indianapolis on Wednesday to speak on behalf of Neese's bill. Neese spoke by phone with Detective Joe Hustsell of the Noble County Sheriff's Department.
"He indicated investigative officers pointed out people can typically survive longer in cold water, giving even more reason for the bill, because if help had been obtained for Thomas," Neese said, the outcome may have been different. Neese also noted that the state coroners association is in favor of the bill.
Phil Hoskins, principal of Fairfield Jr./Sr. High School, where Thomas was a junior, said Tuesday, "My whole point in testifying for the bill would be it's important that young people have accountability. I was shocked to find out there wasn't a law that held them accountable."
Hoskins did not make the trip to Indy but e-mailed his support for the bill to Neese.
Tom and Judy Hoopingarner left New Paris Tuesday night to start their trek to Indianapolis.
"The weather was really bad, so we turned back for home," Judy said. Very early Wednesday, they started again and made it.
"Nothing would have kept me from coming to tell this committee why this bill is so important. No one should be left to die like Thomas was. I asked the committee, 'Is this the kind of message you want to send to young people, that it's OK to do this?'," she said.
Tom Hoopingarner told the committee it was crucial for lawmakers to OK this, "to prevent the heartache we've had. No one should ever go through this."
Contact Mary Ellen Shedron at email@example.com.
Crash help bill goes to capitol
Mother of victim will testify at House hearing
Published: Sunday, February 11, 2007 -- The Truth, A1
Last updated: 2/10/2007 11:49:08 PMBy Mary Ellen Shedron
Photo: Photo Supplied / The Truth
NEW PARIS -- They see it as the best Valentine's Day gift two brokenhearted parents could receive.
Tom and Judy Hoopingarner will testify Wednesday in Indianapolis at a House of Representative's Courts and Criminal Code Committee hearing on a bill inspired by their son's death.
"This is the day we've been waiting for. It's the best Valentine's present we could have gotten," Judy Hoopingarner said.
State Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, authored HB 1321, requiring vehicle passengers to get help for injured or trapped drivers.
Trapped is how the Hoopingarner's 17-year-old son, Thomas Michael Hoopingarner, died on Nov. 19, 2005, after his car became submerged in a Noble County pond.
Two teen passengers left the scene and did not get help for Thomas, police and the Noble County prosecutor have said. Thomas was found early the next morning in his ice-encased car, still wearing his seatbelt. Dr. Terry Gaff, Noble County coroner, ruled the teen died from choking on the pond's dirt and mud.
Gaff is working to rearrange his schedule so he can be in Indianapolis Wednesday to testify on behalf of the bill.
"This is an amazing tragedy that this young man was left there. It's a shame he died in the first place, but the fact that two others walked away should be criminal. We're all responsible for each other," Gaff said Saturday.
Since their son's death, the Hoopingarner family mounted a petition campaign to make it illegal for passengers to leave accident scenes. Judy Hoopingarner made her way into drivers' ed classes to tell the story of Thomas and talk about the issue of personal responsibility. The family's efforts were picked up by Neese, who agreed to author a bill.
"In the irony of all of this," Neese said Saturday, "Wednesday is the last day for testimony to be heard on bills in House committees before they move to the Senate."
A lengthy list of bills, including Neese's, had been assigned to the Courts and Criminal Code Committee, chaired by Rep. Phil Hoy, D-Evansville. Neese agreed to have HB 1321 combined with another bill dealing with coroner standards.
"At least this way, the legislation could get a hearing and we could move forward," Neese said.
"I told the Hoopingarners that in no way should they feel HB 1321 is less important because it was merged into other legislation. The issue is still every bit as vital," Neese said.
"The public will be allowed to speak in favor or against this legislation on Wednesday. I'm unaware of any opposition," Neese said.
He anticipates a committee vote following testimony.