Last year there were more than 1,050 hit-and-runs in the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Northeast division, which stretches from Los Feliz through parts of Echo Park, Griffith Park and Eagle Rock. Many of these incidents resulted in property damage–such as a broken side view mirror–but others left behind seriously injured victims.
“Those hit-and-runs where a person is hurt means somebody was driving, smashed into them and never stopped,” said Los Angeles LAPD Capt. Jeffrey Bert. “And that’s to me the most disturbing, on the moral level [and what is] so maddening… is how could somebody not stop.”
In February, a man crossing Riverside Drive, near Home Restaurant in Silver Lake, was killed after being hit by two different vehicles, according to a statement from the LAPD. After being struck by the first car he was left lying on the pavement, police officials said. A second car then crashed into him and dragged him a short distance. Neither driver stopped to identify themselves or help the victim.
Currently, police have few leads, but LAPD Det. Felix Padilla said they were looking for a black 2012 Kia Borrego–based on evidence found at the scene.
Although this was the first fatal hit-and-run death in Northeast Division for more than a year, there were about nine accidents in 2013 that resulted in severe injuries.
One of the most serious recent hit-and-runs happened last year in February, when bicyclist Damian Kevitt was hit near Griffith Park and dragged almost a quarter mile down the Interstate 5 Freeway. He was left with multiple broken bones and his leg had to be amputated leg. The suspect in the case is still at large.
Police say they have heard all sorts of excuses for hit-and-run drivers. Some say they didn’t know they hit something, or were unaware they were supposed to stop. Others claim they were scared to pull over because they didn’t have a license, or they weren’t citizens and didn’t want to get deported.
“All these things really, they pale in comparison to what the law will do to somebody who is involved in a hit and run,” said Bert. “The sentences are much greater for the person who just runs.”
Hit and runs account for about half of all traffic collisions in the Northeast. This division has more hit and runs then any other in Central Traffic Division, which encompasses neighborhoods from South L.A. to Downtown.
Bert attributes Northeast’s high collision rates to the sheer size of his division. At about 30 square miles, there is a lot of ground for residents to cover—in cars, on bikes and in public transit. Many of the neighborhoods are in the process of gentrifying as well, which can mean disruptive construction on main thoroughfares, he said.
According to LAPD’s Felix Padilla, a detective with LAPD’s traffic division, the Northeast division has some clear problem areas, especially along busy thoroughfares such as Riverside Dr. and Los Feliz Blvd.
Padilla said Los Feliz Boulevard has a lot of rear-end collisions during the stop-and-go of rush hour; then after the traffic dies down and the sun sets, it “turns into a race track,” ushering in a whole other type of accident.
Extra officers are often dispatched, he said, to intersections that are deemed risky, such as York and Figueroa streets, and San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive.
But it can be difficult to track down hit-and-run suspects and the city’s overall solve rate is “very low,” police said.
As a result, police continue to rely on enforcement—writing tickets for those speeding or driving recklessly—as one way to reduce accidents. Making the roads safer through engineering and educating the public on the right way to respond to a collision are also part of the LAPD’s approach.