Virginia couple pushes for bill to increase drunk driving penalties

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FLUVANNA COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — A Fluvanna County couple is asking state leaders to consider a new bill that would increase the penalties for drunk drivers after the near-death experience they faced in Nov. 2017.

Amanda Petrylak was driving home with her 8-year-old daughter, Claire, when she was hit by a drunk driver half a mile from her neighborhood.

It was two days before Thanksgiving.

"I was just shocked and worried," she said. "Obviously not something you expect to have on your way home."

Amanda and her daughter survived, but the crash left them with severe injuries.

"I broke my clavicle. My two broken ribs and a punctured lung," said Amanda Petrylak. "I also broke the T1 and T2 vertebrae in my back."

Claire also had to wear a specialized brace for close to three months because of the severe damage to her neck.

"She broke the C6 and C7 vertebrae in her neck," said Amanda Petrylak. "She suffered extensive damage to the ligaments that attach your head to your neck, so she was basically almost internally decapitated from the impact."

Seeing Claire in that state was also hard for her father, John Petrylak, to see.

"The most difficult times was when she was wearing the brace and we had to bathe her in it and she had to leave it on and soaking wet in the middle of winter with this brace on," said John Petrylak. "It was so difficult for her and so difficult to watch."

The driver who caused the crash received a misdemeanor for the incident, a situation the Petrylaks said frustrated them.

The current law states a driver under the influence can receive a felony charge if they cause significant permanent damage, which, according to the law, the Petrylaks didn't suffer.

With help from Delegate Rob Bell, they decided to try and modify this law with a new bill in the General Assembly.

House Bill 1941 would increase the penalties for drivers who cause significant permanent damage to a Class 4 Felony while drivers who cause severe body injuries would receive a Class 6 Felony.

The Petrylaks talked about their experience in front of the House Subcommittee, where the bill was approved.

The bill is now moving forward in the General Assembly. Pushing for it has been an experience that's given the Petrylaks a platform to create change.

"A $35 cab ride is now several hundred thousands of dollars in medical bills, time and forever changing," said John Petrylak.

John and Amanda Petrylak will talk about their experience in front of the Financial Subcommittee in Richmond on Feb. 18.