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Exclusive: Widow Makes Big Changes In Tallahassee After Husband’s Death

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Michele-Gillen-600x450 Michele Gillen
Michele Gillen is chief investigative reporter at WFOR-TV, Mi...
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The wife of a cyclist who was killed in a hit and run accident has taken her mission to make the roads safer all the way to Tallahassee.

It’s because of her voice, and thousands of others, that she hopes Florida roadways will soon be safer for everyone.

In the Cohen household unpacking pictures opens a window into treasured memories and ongoing heartbreak for a mother and two children still missing their loving husband and father.

For widow Patty Cohen, a powerful legacy is blooming two years after the death of her husband Aaron.

“It’s not like the loss ever gets to be less but the other positive things grow,” said Cohen.

Aaron was an experienced cyclist who rode since he was a child. On one of his rides, he was struck on the Rickenbacker Causeway by a driver who did not stop or call for help.

(Source: Anthony Gonzalez) A photo of Aaron Cohen who died in a hit and run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

(Source: Anthony Gonzalez) A photo of Aaron Cohen who died in a hit and run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway.

When Cohen was late to return home that morning, Patty called his cell phone. It was answered by a trauma nurse.

“As soon as I heard someone else’s voice, I knew exactly what happened,” said Cohen.

Aaron Cohen was struck by 25-year old Michele Traverso who drove home and covered his car with a tarp. He turned himself into police hours later.

“I can’t imagine. I hit a dog once and I stopped. It’s a total wanton disregard for the life of another person,” said Cohen.

Cohen’s death was devastating enough but adding to the pain and outrage for his family, and his adopted family of cyclists across South Florida, was the sentencing of the driver. Traverso would serve less than two years in jail, followed by two years of community control.

“The sentencing was sort of the salt on the wound of the tragedy, we left feeling cheated,” said Cohen.

Outraged over the sentence, Cohen and the Miami cycling community committed to take the issue to Tallahassee. She credits a band of cyclists, along with lawmakers and leaders, for creating and getting passed a bill that she says will add protection for anyone struck, injured or killed by a driver who leaves the scene. The law is called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act.

“He would be proud and probably be humbled that it was in his name,” said Cohen. “ It’s in his spirit that we try to change things, help people, turn something bad to something good. It’s kind of ironic. It’s very much in his character.”

It creates a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of four years for a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

“We are hoping to save lives in addition to ultimately reduce the number of accidents,” said Cohen. “It almost uprights the injustice of the criminal case. It’s a reminder of the things people can do when they get together and I think that’s a wonderful lesson for the children. Our goal for the rest of our lives is to keep adding positive things and this is a major positive thing.”

Governor Rick Scott is likely to sign the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act into law later this month. It is expected he will travel to South Florida to sign it.

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