Parents resolute on `Good Samaritan' bill
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
FEDERAL WAY - Joe and Melva Levick have a large scrapbook that overflows with newspaper clippings about her son's murder and her struggle to pass a law in his honor. This year, their family's fight to pass "the Joey Levick Bill" will fail to even get a hearing, but Melva says she won't give up.
Every year since 1996, the Levicks go to Olympia to lobby and hold rallies for passage of a "Good Samaritan" bill - one that they believe might have saved their son. Their family van routinely carries more than 100 yard signs, which the couple hand out and encourage people to display.
"We lost the most precious thing in our life," said Joe Levick, adding that he hopes their lobbying efforts will save at least one parent from going through the same pain.
In June of 1994, Joey Levick, then 21, was brutally beaten by two men and left for dead in a ditch. According to a civil suit filed by the Levicks, Joey Levick rolled over in the ditch and drowned 13 hours later. His body was found 16 to 17 hours after the beating.
Several people knew he was in the ditch, prosecutors said, some of them leaving and returning more than once.
Medical examiners said later that Levick could have been saved if he had had immediate medical attention, but none of the witnesses called for help.
Jason Twyman was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and Jason Soler, after getting a new trial, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and received a 10-year sentence.
At the trial, the Levicks found out about the other witnesses - at least six, they said - who knew Joey was lying in the ditch. Sympathetic jurors wrote letters to the Levicks later, saying that they, too, were surprised the other witnesses broke no law by not alerting authorities.
"The prosecutor said there was nothing they could do" to hold other witnesses accountable, Joe Levick said.
In February of 1996, the Levicks began the long process of getting a bill through the Legislature.
Originally introduced by former Rep. Tim Hickel, R-Federal Way, the proposal would make "failing to give reasonable assistance" to someone who has suffered "substantial bodily harm" a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in 1997 and '98, but died in the Senate both years. Since then, however, it's failed to make it through the House. Introduced again in the 1999 session, the bill did not get a hearing.
"I'll keep on this and it will pass," said Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way. Miloscia, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 1429. He thinks it's only a matter of time before the Joey Levick Bill becomes law.
But Rep. Ida Ballasiotes, co-chairwoman of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections committee, said that while she has backed the bill in the past and sympathizes with the Levicks' fight, there isn't enough support in the Legislature.
"(The bill) just wasn't one of the top issues in the short session," said Ballasiotes, a Republican from Mercer Island whose own daughter's violent death inspired Ballasiotes' entry into politics.
Bills named after individual victims are often introduced to close perceived loopholes in the law. The "Whitney Graves" bill, for example, which would hold gun owners accountable for safe storage of their handguns, has drawn considerable media attention. The bill is named for an 8-year-old Marysville girl who died when a playmate found a loaded gun and fired it at her.
Ballasiotes said much of the opposition to the Joey Levick Bill comes from lawmakers who don't think the state should try to legislate how people behave. Some, she said, believe there's just no way to enforce the Levick measure.
Critics have gone on record in the past saying that citizens may be reluctant to get involved for fear their actions may not be seen as "reasonable assistance."
But supporters say there's no harm in asking citizens to help.
Dan Satterburg, chief of staff for King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, said the proposed law isn't asking people to jump in and stop a fight or put their own lives in danger, but to notify authorities when they know of or witness an assault.
Satterburg noted that other laws already require people to notify authorities in cases of child abuse, and that citizens aid the police or fire department if their help is requested.
The Levicks have gained widespread public support and attention to their cause. They have appeared on major news programs and afternoon talk shows - their next booking: Oprah Winfrey, to talk about how life-changing events motivate people to pass legislation.
They also have circulated petitions statewide and garnered an astonishing 400,000 signatures in support of their bill - about twice the number needed for a ballot initiative. But the couple haven't thought about taking their proposal to voters. That, they say, would be too expensive.
Instead, the Levicks plan to continue to fight for passage of the "Joey Levick Bill" in Olympia, year after year, again and again.
"I'm not stopping," said Melva Levick. "They'll get sick of me and they'll pass it."
Justin Hopkins' phone message number is 206-878-3337.
Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.