Hit and runs involving property damage can be a challenge for law enforcement

Posted 5/5/19

In the aftermath of a hit and run collision outside his home, Sun City resident Alan Rochman went right to work repairing a short cinderblock wall and …

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Hit and runs involving property damage can be a challenge for law enforcement

Posted

In the aftermath of a hit and run collision outside his home, Sun City resident Alan Rochman went right to work repairing a short cinderblock wall and salvaging what was left of his bed of plants.

And while he doesn’t think the fleeing driver will be found, statistics back up his belief.

The Los Angeles Daily News last year reported that the Los Angeles Police Department solved only 8% of hit and runs in 2017. And those involve more than a broken wall.

In total, there were about 737,100 hit-and-run crashes in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That means a hit and run occurs somewhere in the U.S. every 43 seconds.

Hit and run collisions occur when at least one person involved in the incident flees the scene before offering any or sufficient information, aiding the other person(s) involved, or properly reporting the crash.

“Hit-and-run crashes contribute to the suffering and social and economic burdens typical of injury crashes but also can increase the severity of outcomes given delays in or the complete absence of medical attention for the victims,” the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety states. “Moreover, hit-and-run violations — which are criminal offenses — can create additional burdens for law enforcement and for families looking for remediation and medical and insurance support.”

The Apache Junction Police Department’s traffic unit listed several challenges to solving property damage hit and runs, such as whether the report of the collision or damage was delayed — for example, did it occur overnight and the victim came out to find it — or was the victim inside somewhere (shopping, appointment, etc.) for some time and found the damage when they came out.

“With these examples, the collision was not witnessed and therefore, there are no leads,” police said. “Or if the hit and run collision was being reported immediately, they (victim or witness) could not provide helpful information such as proper direction of travel; they could not provide a license plate or a good description of vehicle or driver.

“If there is no witness who can provide a license plate or followed the vehicle afterwards, it’s hard to conduct a thorough investigation,” police continued. “Having a license plate is a minimum item to get, because by having a license plate that matches the description of the vehicle, we have a ‘starting point’ for the investigation.”

Hit-and-run drivers could face thousands of dollars in fines, a suspended or revoked license, loss of auto insurance coverage, and jail time — especially if the collision results in death.

For the victims of property hit and runs, their best bet for recourse is to document as much as possible and provide that information to their homeowners insurance.

For Mr. Rochman, he went right to work. Prior to the Daily News-Sun arriving at his home the morning of April 25, Mr. Rochman said he and a friend had already fixed about 80% of what was damaged.

However, what was still visible of the collision were tire tracks through the gravel on the side of the home; a portion of a roughly 18-inch-tall cinderblock wall laid out on grass; and damage to two trees on the side of the house. Mirror pieces of the hit-and-run vehicle, described as a silver newer model pickup truck, also remained on the yard.

The truck nearly hit a group of golfers as well.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the incident is that the fleeing vehicle didn’t hit the air conditioning unit. The vehicle’s travel path through Mr. Rochman’s property was a tight squeeze.

“Literally an inch or 2 inches,” Mr. Rochman said. “You can see where his tire track goes really close to those two little white iron rods holding the AC.”

Mr. Rochman said activity on the street is quiet.

“That was an anomaly,” he said of the April 24 collision near 99th and Alabama avenues. “I’m thinking it’s a young guy looking for a short cut through Sun City, high as a kite. I hope it costs him more to get his tires and wheels and mirrors straightened out than it’s going to take for me to get this thing back to the state of almost normal.”

Whether the driver was impaired will likely remain a mystery.

Police said while every investigation is worth time and effort, some of the problem with property hit and runs is having no information to work with. Simply being told it was a “blue truck” that fled the scene doesn’t help one bit other than the vehicle being a “blue truck” that did the damage.

Some of the reasons hit and run offenders give Apache Junction police include:

  • Being scared and not knowing what to do;
  • Not wanting to get into trouble because the vehicle was not registered, they didn’t have insurance, they shouldn’t be driving, or they were being sought out by law enforcement for something unrelated;
  • They didn’t know or realize they hit something; or
  • They did know but figured it was “so minor” and thought it was “no big deal.” Also, they knew or realized they hit or caused damage but figured no one was looking or saw them so they left.

In a report, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety cited a United Kingdom study from 2017 that says for “crashes involving property damage only, it is possible that drivers may not know it is their responsibility to stop and report the crash.”

Another study questioned whether drivers were more likely to flee the more at-fault they were. Subjective factors like failing to control the vehicle, level of impairment and drowsiness may lead a driver to flee.

However, objective factors like weather, poor road conditions, or the behavior of the vehicle or pedestrian may cause a driver to stay behind.

Causing damage will bring consequences, but leaving the scene of a collision and/or not reporting it will bring about more severe punishments if the offender is identified and found.

But unless the hit and run is very serious in nature, like a death or very critical injuries, resources are not likely to be exhausted to resolve the case.

So does solving a property damage case rest on the offender turning themselves in?

“It comes down to wanting to complete a thorough investigation and if possible ‘getting justice’ for the victim to some extent,” Apache Junction police said. “Meaning if there was a lot of damage done, we want to be able to obtain the offender’s insurance to provide that to the victim.

“Now it may depend on the offender’s honesty as to how the investigation concludes. Whether that be they are charged with leaving the scene or just getting that person’s insurance. If it was real minor damage or if the damage was extensive may have a factor, meaning it is possible the offender truly did not know they hit or caused damage.”

And yet, there was clear damage done that April 24 in Sun City.

So as Mr. Rochman departed for Bridge Club the next day, someone, somewhere, remained free of legal trouble. And they may continue to be for some time, if not ever.

“After you leave, I’m going to call the homeowner association and tell them I want to put up a barricade,” he said. “A man’s house is his castle. Every castle has a moat. I want to build a moat so the next guy can’t be running into my house and causing me thousands of dollars.”

Reporter Chris Caraveo can be reached at ccaraveo@newszap.com or 623-876-2531. Follow on Twitter @ChrisCaraveo31.

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