By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday, advanced legislation which recognizes an unborn embryo or fetus as a “distinct victim in a DUI causing death.”
Sponsored by Del. Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, HB 3302 – otherwise referred to as “Liam’s Law” – was passed unanimously by the House of Delegates on Feb. 14, before making its way to Senate Judiciary. The legislation was prompted as the result of a vehicular accident which resulted in the death of an unborn child, Liam Thomas Sharpe.
Olivia Sharpe, Liam’s mother, addressed the committee, saying, “July 18, 2022 was a normal Monday morning. I got up and got ready for the day. I grabbed my lunch, kissed my husband goodbye, and headed out the door to go to work. As I was driving [to work] my world was turned upside down.”
“An allegedly impaired driver came across the median and into my lane,” Sharpe continued, before explaining that the other’s driver’s vehicle struck hers at 70 miles per hour. “He (other driver) had a revoked license for a previous DUI. He had no car insurance, and since the accident, we have been informed that he had multiple illegal drugs in his system.”
Sharpe was 28-weeks pregnant with Liam at the time of the accident. According to Sharpe, the impact caused the placenta to separate from her uterus, resulting in the death of her unborn child.
“Our son’s life was ended within seconds because of a placental-abruption,” Sharpe noted. “I’ll never forget hearing the words ‘there are no fetal heart tones’ while having an ultrasound in the emergency department.”
Aside from the death of Liam, Sharpe sustained life-threatening injuries, as well. An emergency cesarean-section was performed to remove Liam’s body, and to save Sharpe’s life.
The driver of the other vehicle was initially charged with DUI causing death, Sharpe said. However, those charges have since been amended due to current state code not recognizing the unborn as distinct individuals in instances of motor vehicle accidents.
“You cannot imagine the anger and devastation we felt after having not only lost our son, but to then be told that he would not even be considered as a person,” Sharpe added. “On February 3, the impaired driver was arraigned on a lesser charge of DUI causing bodily injury against me. While we are happy that the legal system is attempting to provide justice fairly, and within the current passage of the law, it is traumatizing and severely hurtful to know our son’s life was wrongly and prematurely ended – and the impaired driver’s criminal record will never reflect that he killed our son.”
“Our hope is that this law will be corrected as soon as possible,” Sharpe concluded. “No parent should ever have to hear that their baby isn’t recognized as a person when a crime like this is committed.”
At the conclusion of Sharpe’s testimony, Committee Chair Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, addressed Sharpe, saying, “I think I speak on behalf of everyone on this committee – what you have endured, you and your whole family – is beyond imagination.”
“We so admire your courage to come here and talk to us about it,” Trump added. “We recognize how absolutely hard and difficult it must be for you to have to stand here and relive those horrible moments.”
HB 3302 was unanimously adopted by the Judiciary Committee, and will now be reported to the full Senate with a recommendation for passage. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 3302 as additional information is made available.