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Friday, March 31, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Crime laws bear names of young victims

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA - Joey Levick was beaten and left in a ditch to die. Dane Rempfer was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Anton Skeen died because a seat belt failed to hold him during a rollover accident.

The three tragedies weren't related. But in each case, the victims' parents formed the same thought: There ought to be a law - one that would make it less likely that anyone else would die that way.

So "Anton's Law," "the Joey Levick Bill" and "the Dane Rempfer Bill" came before the Legislature this session, riding on the emotions of families who channeled their mourning into crusades.

Gov. Gary Locke has signed two of those bills into law; the third will be back again next year. And while it's not clear whether the measures that bear the names of Levick, Rempfer and Skeen would have prevented their deaths, they are part of a growing body of laws inspired by - and named for - victims of violent crimes or accidents.

Myrna and Joe Levick of Federal Way have approached the Legislature every year since 1996, lobbying for the bill named after their son.

"It has helped us turn our grief into doing something positive," said Myrna Levick. "Joey was a kind person. He loved everybody. We feel like if we can save one life by getting this law, Joey will be smiling down on us. I know he is already."

In June 1994, Joey Levick, 21, was beaten by two men and left for dead in a ditch. According to a civil suit filed by the Levicks, he rolled over in the ditch and drowned 13 hours later. His body was found 16 to 17 hours after the beating.

The two men responsible for the crime are in prison. At their trials, it was revealed that at least six other people knew Levick was lying in the ditch and did nothing to help him. They were never prosecuted.

Medical examiners said later that Levick could have been saved if he had had immediate medical attention. Under current state law, the witnesses who failed to call for help for Levick could not be prosecuted. The Joey Levick bill would change that, making "failure to give reasonable assistance" to someone who has suffered "substantial bodily harm" a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

So far, the Levick bill has come up short, but the family, which has gathered more than 400,000 signatures in support of the bill, pledges to be back again. "It will pass next year, there is no doubt in my mind that it will pass," Myrna Levick said.

She may be right. Lawmakers in recent years have displayed a penchant for laws named after crime or accident victims; the Legislature approved both Anton's Law and the Dane Rempfer bill this year.

Five years ago, the Legislature passed the Becca bill, which gives parents more power to lock up runaway youths. The bill was named for Becca Hedman, 13, of Tacoma, who was killed in Spokane after running away from home.

Last year, the Legislature approved the Teekah Lewis Act, named for the 2-year-old girl who vanished from a Tacoma bowling alley. The law created a state task force to help local police investigate missing-persons cases.

On a national level, perhaps the best-known measure of this sort is "Megan's Law," which requires authorities to notify neighborhoods when a convicted sex offender moves in. That law was named after Megan Kanka, the New Jersey 7-year-old who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a previously convicted child molester who lived nearby. All 50 states now have a version of Megan's Law.

While many of the laws named after dead children passed by overwhelming margins, a few lawmakers are critical, saying the Legislature shouldn't attempt to pass laws to prevent every imaginable tragedy.

Rep. Phil Fortunato, a Kent Republican, launches into a tirade over the trend, mockingly referring to the Legislature as the "Nannyslature."

"What do you do when a mother comes in and testifies that her son got sick because he drank water out of a creek? Do we have a new law saying you can't drink water out of a creek? That's why you can't drink water out of a creek! That's why we have water-treatment plants. Lewis and Clark got sick when they drank water out of a creek," Fortunato fumed.

With that sort of legislation, he said, "We're taking care of you. You don't have any responsibility to have any common sense."

While each proposal is well-intentioned, it is sometimes less certain whether it would have the desired effect. It's not clear, for example, what direct effect "Anton's Law" would have on traffic accidents that result in children's deaths.

The bill is named for Anton Skeen, a 4-year-old who was thrown from a car during a rollover accident near Ellensburg in 1996. Anton's seat belt, designed for adults, was fastened but did not hold him in place. The law attempts to persuade parents to buckle older children into child seats.

The bill says children under 1 year old or weighing less than 20 pounds should sit in a rear-facing infant seat. Those between 1 and 4 and weighing less than 40 pounds should sit in a forward-facing child-safety seat. Kids over 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds, but less than 6 and weighing less than than 60 pounds, should sit in a booster seat.

The bill allows police to pull over and cite drivers who are not obeying the restrictions after January 2002. But exactly how the law would be enforced is unclear since children don't carry identification and the police don't carry scales.

Its backers say it will have an important indirect impact, however.

"It's not going to be as much about enforcement. It's going to be more of an education campaign," said Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, a supporter of the law who is also a State Patrol sergeant.

The Dane Rempfer bill was named after a 15-year-old North Bend boy struck and killed by a speeding truck while walking along a road at night with two friends. The driver fled and didn't turn himself in for two days. He was convicted of leaving the scene and sentenced to six months in jail.

The Rempfer bill would boost penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, requiring offenders to serve at least 21 months in prison.

Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Issaquah, who sponsored the bill, said naming the measure after Dane Rempfer helped it stand out among the thousands of bills proposed each legislative session. The vast majority of those bills are known only by a number. Senate Bill 6071, for example, is the more mundane name for the Dane Rempfer bill.

"A bill number doesn't say much. It's very impersonal and there is very little human connection. But when I say the `Dane Rempfer bill,' I'll bet most of the legislators can tell you what it is," Rossi said.

Information from Seattle Times Olympia bureau reporter Dionne Searcey is included in this report.

Jim Brunner's phone message number is 360-236-8266. His e-mail address is jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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