The strangest thing happened to me earlier this year. Not once but twice I was involved in hit and run car accidents, two Fridays in a row. Because of that I've created the hashtag #HARF though I've never posted pictures of either incident on Instagram. It's kind of like #TBT (Throwback Thursday) only less fun, more scary, stressful, and bad.
The first time I was a witness. The second time I was a victim. The reason I'm sharing these stories with you is to implore people to get involved when you see an accident take place.
The first time I was just pulling into a shopping mall parking lot. In the mostly empty lane before me I immediately noticed two things: A car was coming towards me in the left lane to exit the lot out the main driveway that I'd just entered. And to the right a truck was about to back up. I expected him to go slowly but saw him start reversing at a high rate of speed. The woman never saw him coming he came out so fast. I leaned on my horn in an attempt to warn him to stop but it didn't even phase him. His rear bumper collided with her driver's side door with a sickening crash and crunching noise.
Instead of stopping he pulled forward, turned right, and made a mad dash to exit the lot. Which meant he drove right past the front end of my car as I was still entering the lot. The woman who was hit, she and I made eye contact. Her expression basically said "What the hell?" I hope my expression back was "I know!" and with that I drove forward, passed her car, and drove through the parking lot parallel to the street. I exited out a second driveway and the next thing I knew I was behind the truck that hit her at a red light.
I stopped far enough back to leave myself room to go around him in case he noticed me and stepped out of his car. While we waited for the light I got out my camera and got a crystal clear picture of his vehicle make, model, and license plate. The light turned green and he turned left so I followed as I called 911. "DO NOT FOLLOW HIM" the operator firmly told me. Twice. I was certain he didn't know I was following him but complied and returned to the scene of the accident as officers were already enroute.
I found the woman who'd been hit sitting in the parking lot. She was on the phone with someone describing to them what had just happened. She wasn't just trembling, her entire body was shaking uncontrollably from head to toe and she was crying and just looked so alone. I told her I got the driver, showed her the picture, sat beside her, and held her hand until the police arrived.
Long story short, the lady was injured, her car heavily damaged, and while the police located the vehicle a month later they still hadn't located the driver who was on the lam. When I found out I wished I had followed the truck that day. I'm certain the police would have been able to arrest him directly from the vehicle if I had. I'm not saying I'd have pursued a hit and run driver at high speed, or risked my own safety but I'm certain he didn't realize I'd seen the accident so if I had followed him until the police could intercept him, in this particular case, I wouldn't have been in danger and they would have caught the person responsible.
Weeks later I received a kind note from the lady thanking me for getting involved. I hope she has healed and the driver was located and arrested.
Exactly one week later, the next Friday, I was at an intersection in the left turn lane stopped at a red light. At that point I felt like my life was falling apart. I was basically on my own, kind of homeless (living from my trailer), Squash (the kitty cat) had died two months earlier and I'd just lost Kitai (my dog) a few days earlier when *CRUNCH* someone ran into me from behind as I waited for the light. I did not get out of the vehicle. It wouldn't have been safe to do so as it was a fairly busy intersection. While I continued to wait for the light to turn green I could see the driver in my rearview mirror. Good enough that I knew exactly what they looked like as far as their facial features, hair style and color, ethnicity, and approximate age.
When the light turned green I turned left and pulled over. The driver who hit me? Cruised by slowly, looked me in the eye, then sped up and took off. *ARGHHHHHH* I couldn't believe it. The worst part was there were cars behind them so I wasn't able to follow. As they sped away I called 911 and pulled out to follow them when I could.
I told the dispatcher my location and gave a description of the car. "What make was it?" She asked. One thing I don't know are car makes or models. If identifying car brand logos was a category in Jeopardy, I would not be a winner. I told her the color and that it had a logo emblem that looked like the Olympic rings, only silver. "An Audi?" She asked? "I don't know" I replied. But if you show me an Audi logo I can tell you then.
The operator said she could send an officer to me to take a report or I could go to the police station as I was in close proximity to it at the time. I told her I'd rather keep driving around looking for the car as it was heavily damaged on the front end with a crumpled hood so I'd know it if I saw it. She said "That won't be necessary, we think we know who it is." Huh? So, I went to the police station and waited for an officer to take my statement. That's when I realized my car wasn't damaged at all. Strange, I thought to myself considering the damage to their car.
Finally a dispatcher told me that they had apprehended the person who they believe hit me and would I be willing to go out to ID the car? Um, YES! So, I drove back to near the scene of the accident to find not one patrol car but a half dozen cars, in addition to multiple motorcycle units as well. "This is weird" I thought to myself as I pulled into the auto body repair lot. Yup, the driver had attempted to drop their car off to have the damage repaired before they got caught.
Here's what I learned: Before hitting me the same driver had caused a different hit and run injury accident earlier that morning and had fled the scene. The driver was on their way to the auto body repair shop (just down the street from their home) when they ran into me. As it turned out the police in the neighboring city were searching for this person and the local police (where I was hit) were too because the driver lived in their jurisdiction. A witness got the license plate at the first accident but I was told nobody saw the driver. My 911 call helped the local police to apprehend the driver as they then knew the direction and street the car was on.
The police didn't realize I'd seen the driver. I gave a physical description of their suspect during which some of them were clearly happy that I could. "Would you mind identifying the suspect for us?" they asked. But then they couldn't get the person out of the patrol car because they were too intoxicated. At 11:00 AM. When they couldn't get them out of the car they asked if I'd go over and take a look inside. I felt like saying I'd do it if I can yell at the person and give them a piece of my mind too. I was really furious. I'd been dealing with so much upheaval, loss, pain, and despair the last thing I needed was to be hit by a car driven by a drunk driver.
I successfully ID'd the person and left.
Later I realized it was a good thing I hadn't got out of my car in the intersection after the collision. Being drunk, if the driver had attempted to flee at that moment they very well may have run over me in the process.
Months later I sent an inquiry to the District Attorney's office asking what had happened with the case.
The driver took a plea bargain. Instead of facing all counts (I believe there should have been three. There were two counts related to the first accident, mine would have been the third.) they faced a lesser charge. The end result was 45 days in jail by pleading to 1 hit and run charge (instead of three), probation, mandatory alcohol and drug abuse classes, their license was automatically suspended, and they paid fines in the form of $2,000. I was glad they didn't get away with it completely but felt that their sentence should have been tougher. Jail time I don't think would have made as big of an impact as community service, like instead of 45 days in jail they should have received 6 months of community service on weekends. I also think they should have been charged a much higher fine. And they are being sued in civil court by one of the other victims they injured.
This was the person's first offense so all in all I guess justice was served.
But it took witnesses to make that happen.
So, if you ever have the chance to be a witness don't think about it, just do it. And if you're ever the victim do your best to keep your cool and look, really look, at everything about the vehicle and person in the few seconds you're able to. It could make a huge difference in prosecuting an offender.