An Open Letter to ABC 7 Concerning Their Coverage of a Hit and Run Crash That Killed Andy Shah

(The following letter was sent to Streetsblog with the understanding that we would publish it by the friends and family of Anand “Andy” Shah. Shah passed away after being struck in a hit and run crash in September. The LAPD is still looking for information about the driver who caused the collision. The only edit I made was to remove the text of a link and hyper link it in the same sentence. The letter was written in response to the video embedded directly below.- DN)

8 October, 2013

To Whom it May Concern,

In this open letter, we the undersigned are writing in regard to ABC 7’s news coverage of the fatal accident involving our friend Anand “Andy” Shah. We understand that the purpose of ABC’s report, which aired on September 6, 2013, was to draw attention to the fact that the driver involved in the accident had absconded and that this might invite viewers to come forward with useful information. While such reportage is necessary, it still needs to be done with sensitivity. Such tact was sorely lacking in how ABC informed the public about the accident that led to Andy’s demise.

Most egregiously, video footage accompanying the report repeatedly showed images of our friend’s body as it lay covered with a white sheet on the street. If the intent was to reach out to those who might be able to provide insight about what happened on the night, how would such a spectacle be of any assistance? Rather, the displaying of Andy’s remains served only to further traumatize those already grieving his loss, even if this was not the intent. Such callousness acts in a sensationalist fashion that has little to do with garnering leads that would help the investigation into this crime, but has much to do with how the media further desensitizes its viewers to the tragic loss of life in such violent circumstances.

As evidence of this, note that in the comments section that follows the online news report, a contributor named Brian says, “For starters, this person was breaking the law by crossing outside of a crosswalk. So, just on the face of things, it’s the pedestrians [sic] fault. Tragic of course, but it’s the pedestrians [sic] fault.” Clearly, this contradicts the statements made by LAPD officials Richard French and Chief Charlie Beck, who are interviewed in the news video. Both maintain that it was the hit-and-run driver’s responsibility to have been more careful and to have stopped. However, it should not go amiss that it is ABC’s news story that says Andy “was jaywalking when a vehicle slammed into him,” implying that he was the one who should be held responsible for his own death.

Further, the report went out of its way to refer to Andy as a “Norwalk man” and someone who was allegedly not from Los Angeles. What purpose does this distracting information serve other than to make it appear that, as a consequence, the victim must have surely been unfamiliar with the territory in which the accident occurred? Not only did Andy attend UCLA and work in downtown Los Angeles, but was also well-versed with its various streets and areas. Besides, is Norwalk really to be construed as some region entirely alien to the geography of greater Los Angeles as it is commonly known to those who traverse those parts of Southern California?

As Andy’s surviving family and friends, we hope to bring awareness to the still unresolved matter of his death, as well as issues of the kind of accident that claimed his life. In fact, the very same report that we are writing to complain about makes mention of a rash of these types of casualties. Negligence on Los Angeles streets have caused the City Council to consider instituting a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of those responsible for hit-and-run accidents. Additionally, State Assembly Bill 184 proposes to extend the statute of limitations on such collisions from three to six years. These measures indicate just how much of an epidemic street fatalities and injuries have become, and the seriousness with which they should be taken stock of. Likewise, we hope that ABC and other news station will be more cognizant and careful in reporting such events so as not to exacerbate the already traumatic nature of these episodes, but to be part of the solution in bringing greater awareness to safety on the streets.

Sincerely,

Joanne Razo, A. J. Sarbuland, Rocky Khullar, Sandhya Radhakrishnan, Jenny Breyer,
Maya C. Dharwarkar, and R. Benedito Ferrão