Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday signed a bill that would increase penalties for leaving the scene of serious and fatal boating accidents as the widow of a man killed in a 2008 boating accident in Brick looked on.
Bonnie Post, the wife of the late Robert Post, of Essex Fells and Point Pleasant Borough, had pushed for the law's passage following her husband's death at Gunner's Ditch - the area where Barnegat Bay and the Metedeconk River converge - in Aug. 2008.
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.
Police searched for the Imperial for more than a day before DiGilio came forward through an attorney, claiming he thought he had hit a log.
Though 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.
DiGilio did not face charges of leaving the scene of the accident since the maximum penalty was a fine of just $25.
The new law brings the penalties for leaving the scene of a boating accident in line with the same penalties for leaving the scene as a car accident.
"Boating is about enjoying the summer and relaxing with your family and friends, but it also comes with a responsibility to the people you’re with and others on the water to be vigilant, responsible, and safe, and to help stop accidents from happening to begin with," said Christie, who signed the bill at the New Jersey State Police Marine Services Bureau Station in Point Pleasant Borough. "This law will serve as another reminder to implement necessary practices to ensure the safety of everyone on the water.”
The bill had installed for years before the 2008 accident. Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) first pushed for the law more than a decade ago when he was Ocean County prosecutor. He sponsored the bill signed into law Thursday, along with Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) and Assembly members Dave Wolfe and Gregory P. McGuckin (both R-Ocean).
Under the legislation, if the accident results in serious injury, leaving the scene would be considered a third degree crime punishable by three to five years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
There are also increased penalties for failing to assist injured parties at the scene of the accident; a fine of between $200 and $400 and a potential 30 day jail term.