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Monday, February 20, 2017

Hit-And-Run: America's Silent Crime Wave

     People who accidentally injure or kill pedestrians and others with their vehicles then leave the scene of the accident, come from all walks of life. Most of them are ordinary people who do not live lives of crime. They flee the site of the mishap for different reasons. Hit-and-run drivers don't stop because they are intoxicated, driving on suspended driver's licenses, don't have insurance, are accompanied by someone they shouldn't be with, or are being sought by the authorities. Hit-and-run victims also represent a cross-section of American society.

     Hit-and-run cases are difficult to solve because so many of them occur at night with no witnesses. Even if investigators link a particular car or truck to the victim through hair follicle, textile, or DNA evidence, the prosecutor still has to place the defendant in that vehicle. Judges in hit-and-run cases resulting in injury or death are often reluctant to send convicted defendants to prison. These are not intentional crimes, and those convicted are usually not hardened criminals. Families of hit-and-run victims believe these defendants get off light.

     Nationwide, there about about 6 million traffic accidents a year. At least ten percent of these crashes involve hit-and-run drivers. Of the 600,000 or so hit-and-run cases every year, about a third result in injury or death. Los Angeles, according to a recent journalistic study by L. A. Weekly, has been in the midst of a hit-and-run epidemic since 2011. Every year, more than 4,000 people in the city of 3.8 million are hurt or killed by hit-and-run drivers. Almost half of the city's traffic accidents are hit-and-run cases. The staggering rate of this crime has overwhelmed the Los Angeles police.

    Because the hit-and-run accident has become such a commonplace event, these cases do not attract a lot of coverage in the media. Exceptions involve drivers who are professional athletes, TV actors, politicians, or anyone remotely famous. A hit-and-run case made national news in 1999 when 43-year-old Bryon Smith ran over the horror novelist, Stephen King. King was jogging on a remote road near North Lovell, Maine when Smith plowed into him. The writer nearly lost a leg, and Smith lost his driver's license. A year after the judge gave Smith a suspended sentence, the hit-and-run driver committed suicide.

     On January 14, 2013, a "hit-and-run" Google search covering a period of 24 hours, revealed more than thirty cases across America, a fraction of the actual number. In Los Angeles County, 31-year-old twin sisters Tanisha and Tamaya Davis were killed by a hit-and-run driver as they brawled in the middle of the street at three in the morning. The driver has not been identified.

     In the early morning hours of January 14, 2013, sheriff's deputies found a hit-and-run victim lying dead on the road in North Charleston, North Carolina. In Framingham, Oregon, a 58-year-old man was seriously injured at 7:30 in the evening when a motorist ran over him as he crossed the street. The police were looking for a blue Toyota sedan. A hit-and-run driver on the south side of Indianapolis killed a female pedestrian at eleven-thrity in the morning. In Houston, Texas, at ten-thirty at night, a 64-year-old man was killed when he tried to cross a busy road that had no crosswalk. He was hit by a gray Toyota pickup. A man in Brooklyn, New York was injured by a motorist while riding a bicycle at four in the morning. A driver on a road in Poulsbo, Washington hit two female pedestrians from behind. The injured women ended up in a roadside ditch.

The Facebook Case

     On New Year's eve, 2012, 18-year-old Jacob Cox-Brown, while driving home from a party drunk, hit two other cars and kept on going. The next day, the Astoria, Washington resident wrote the following on his Facebook page: "Drivin drunk...classic ;) but to whoever's vehicle I hit, I am sorry." A reader notified the police who examined Cox-Brown's car to find damage that linked his vehicle to one of the sideswiped cars. Following his arrest, Cox-Brown admitted leaving the scene of the collisions. He was charged with two counts of failing to perform the duties of a driver. (As of February 20, 2017, I can find no disposition of this case recorded on the Internet.)

The Motorist with the Bad DMV Record

     On Saturday, January 13, 2013, a hit-and-run driver struck 28-year-old Catherine Calalang and her 20-year-old cousin Laurene Jiminez as they walked along a road in Camden County, New Jersey. Calalang had five teeth kocked out, and suffered facial injuries. Jiminez suffered serious head injuries. The next day, Voorhees Township police received an anonymous tip that led them to Magnolia, New Jersey where they found a damaged Ford Fusion parked on the street. The vehicle, registered to 44-year-old Michele Toussaint of Berlin, New Jersey, contained physical evidence linking it to the hit-and-run.

     Michele Toussaint, since 1991, had 52 driver's license arrests and 16 moving traffic violations. (Toussaint's husband had been killed in a traffic accident.) She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, endangering an injured victim, and causing injury while driving on a suspended license. Toussaint was taken into custody on January 13, 2013 and placed into the Camden County Correctional Facility under $62,500 bail. Toussaint told the arresting officers that she was about to turn herself in.

     The defendant pleaded guilty in December 2013. The judge, at her sentencing hearing, sentenced Toussaint to a two-year electronic monitoring home detention program.

No Prison for Helen Fettes

     In October 2011, 80-year-old Helen Fettes, while driving on a road in Olmsted, Ohio in the Cleveland area, killed 13-year-old Charlie Kho. After running the boy over, Fettes drove away. In November 2012, after pleading no contest to aggravated vehicular homicide, the judge sentenced Fettes to five years of house arrest. The judge also suspended Fettes' driving privileges for life, and ordered her to pay $125,000 in restitution. 

1 comment:

  1. I think part of the problem is that advertising features sporty, even reckless, driving...even in some minivan ads! The impression that these ads give...that driving's all fun, and nothing can go wrong...sinks in after a while, lulling drivers into a false sense of safety. Then their attention is diverted momentarily, and they kill someone and/or themselves. Driver Education should be MANDATORY, and feature lots of gory accident photos. Christ, I watch accident videos on YouTube, and wonder why I continue driving.

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