Local hit-and-run shows in state’s rising figures
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
An average of four hit-and-run cases are reported in Tallahassee every day, adding to the statistics that shows Florida as one of the top five states with the most crashes where drivers leave the scene.
In all, about 682,000 hit-and-run crashes occurred each year since 2006 across the country, according to a recent report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Florida accounts for about 100,000 of those cases, according to Florida Highway Patrol.
While the average cases of hit-and-run in Tallahassee is about 1,300 each year, the number of cases in other parts of the state is staggering. The highest number of cases was recorded in Miami-Dade with 19,087, according to FHP’s most recent report in 2016.
Across the country, almost two hit-and-run crashes occur every minute, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. These resulted in 2,049 deaths in 2016 – the highest number on record and a 60 percent increase since 2009.
Michael Combs, a traffic investigator with Tallahassee Police Department, said fear is one of the leading reasons for drivers leaving the scene of a crash. Others might simply be concerned about their insurance rate increasing, he said.
State law classifies punishment for a hit-and-run as a misdemeanor, or a felony if the crash results in a fatality.
However, Combs said, in most cases hit-and-run crashes occur because drivers usually aren’t always alert.
“It’s just people being negligent,” he said. “They are not paying attention and they don’t want to stay on the scene and leave.”
“For a lot of them; it’s fear of what’s going to happen because they’ve been in a crash.
“It’s not really a criminal predicate why they leave.”
While the numbers of hit-and-run cases have been holding steady in Leon County, not every case involves a fatality or a pedestrian actually being struck. Several cases of fender benders or one driver bumping another’s automobile in a parked space are reported daily, Combs said.
Incidents of hit-and-run tend to be higher when students from TCC, FSU and FAMU are in town, Combs said. Accidents where one driver leaves the scene also are common on the weekend, he said.
Like the FHP, TPD relies on the public to help solve some cases, especially those that result in death or severe injuries. Success in solving those kinds of cases relies heavily on eye-witness accounts, Combs said.
“We don’t want the public to chase cars and things like that,” he said, “but if you see something call up here (to TPD headquarters) and say something.”
While hit-and-run in Tallahassee seldomly results in fatalities, there are several unsolved cases. Just a week ago, FHP said it was looking for a driver who struck Roland John and left him lying in the road at Bloxham Cutoff.
Then, there is the case of Paul Hoover, who was a track coach at Wakulla High School. Hoover was killed while running on Spring Hill Road on May 1 last year.
A recent FHP report shows that pedestrians such as runners and cyclists rank high among hit-and-run victims. They make up 65 percent of the people killed in a hit-and-run crash.
Gary Droze, a friend of Hoover, attested to that, pointing to a time when he and another runner were almost struck by a car that sped through the course.
“It’s just one of those things you just have to keep in mind that the drivers are not always aware,” Droze said. “Even if you’re doing everything right as a runner, there could be cars coming through in a hurry.”