Governor Signs Michelle Smith's Law With Family, Firefighters Present
House Bill 204, sponsored by Rep. Jaques, protects emergency services personnel
With family members and dozens of firefighters looking on, Governor Jack A. Markell signed into law Michelle Smith's Law on Friday morning at the Delaware City fire station, which will protect all emergency services personnel who put their lives in harm's way to help citizens.
Sponsored by Rep. Earl G. Jaques Jr., House Bill 204 is named after Delaware City Fire Co. firefighter Michelle Smith, 30, who was killed on Dec. 22 while attending to a man who fell off his motorcycle on U.S. 13. She was struck by a speeding BMW that also sideswiped a police cruiser on the scene of the accident before hitting her and the motorcycle rider.
"I sat with Michelle Smith's daughter at their home shortly after her mother's death and I asked what we could do to help," Governor Markell said. "She said to make sure her mother was remembered and that her killer was punished. We honor Michelle's memory and her service with this bill and say to any whose reckless behavior puts our first responders at mortal risk - you will be punished."
House Bill 204, which passed the General Assembly in June, adds paramedics, EMTs, fire marshals and fire police officers to a list of first responders whose death can result in a capital first-degree murder charge. Under older statutes, a person who recklessly causes the death of an on-duty law enforcement officer, corrections employee or firefighter while they are performing their official duties could be charged with first-degree murder and eligible for capital punishment.
Rep. Jaques said that Ms. Smith taught CPR and first aid at his church the week before she was killed. News of her death shook his church's congregation, and when he learned that not all first responders were covered under the law, he introduced the legislation.
"Our first responders do an outstanding job protecting us and saving our lives under the most stressful and often dangerous situations," said Rep. Jaques, D-Glasgow. "All first responders - police officers, paramedics, firefighters and EMTs - put themselves in harm's way as part of their everyday job, and they should be protected equally in the eyes of the law. I hope that the signing of HB 204 properly honors the memory of Michelle and will help protect her fellow first responders."
Delaware City Fire Co. president Wally Poppe said that Michelle was a truly positive person who specifically became a member to provide assistance to the community, through fire prevention and emergency medical services.
"This law will truly honor the life of Michelle and improve a possible injustice to other responders that hopefully will never have to face the traumatic loss that occurred for Michelle's family and our fire company", Mr. Poppe said. "We are extremely proud to have the governor sign the bill into law at the station, in front of Michelle's gear locker and with her family present in support."
Ms. Smith's parents, Harvey and Joann Newton, said the legislation was a fitting tribute for their daughter.
"This is an honor to see this law signed on behalf of our daughter Michelle," Mr. Newton said. "This is a very important law. We need to keep the issue alive in the eyes of everyone. This kind of tragedy does not happen to everyone else as it has to our family, and it is a very difficult time for us."
The bill signing was aired live on Fox 29 News' Good Day Philadelphia, highlighting the event and the impact the fire service has on the community during it program. Delaware City Fire Co. was featured during the traffic segments, focusing on the numerous activities performed by the volunteer membership.