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LA City Council Gets Tough on Hit-and-Run Crimes: New Rewards and Alerts

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (center, at podium) touts the city's efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning's press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander (at podium) touts the city’s efforts to stem hit-and-run crimes at this morning’s press conference. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to approve two new city programs that aim to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. According to Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander, hit-and-run crashes killed 27 people in Los Angeles in 2014, and 80 percent of recent hit-and-run crimes remain unsolved.

The city’s hit-and-run efforts were previewed at a press event this morning hosted by Councilmembers Englander and Joe Buscaino, with representatives of the police (LAPD) and transportation (LADOT) departments, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt.

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vazquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run in 2013. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The two new programs approved today include:

1 – New Public Alert System “Yellow Alerts” for Hit-and-Run Crimes

Established via council motion 14-0444, the LAPD will now publicize hit-and-run crimes via a new alert system. The alerts will be distributed via LAPD social media, including Nixle, Twitter, and Facebook, to enlist the public’s help in apprehending suspects who flee the scene of hit-and-run crimes.

Alerts will be dependent on the severity of the crime, and will be targeted to areas in and near the LAPD division where the crime took place. They will, of course, be limited by the information available, such as the license plate, vehicle, and description of perpetrator.

A similar alert system in Denver, Colorado, has improved conviction rates for hit-and-run crimes there. From the text of the motion [PDF]:

Medina [Hit-and-Run] Alerts have been in place in the City of Denver for two years and in the City of Aurora for one, and are issued in severe or fatal hit-and-run collisions when a description of the vehicle involved is available. Medina Alerts enable authorities to quickly broadcast information about a hit-and-run collision to the public on highway signs and through the media. In Denver, the city has also partnered with cab drivers and others who spend their working hours on the road, and alerts them when a collision occurs. Denver has issued 17 Medina Alerts since enacting their program; 13 of these cases have been solved.

2 – Standing Rewards for Information Leading to Hit-and-Run Convictions

Established via council motion 13-0025-S1, the city will now offer rewards to individuals who come forward with information that leads to the conviction of hit-and-run crimes. Councilmember Buscaino describes this as an attempt to “change the culture of driving away” from a crash.  Read more…

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Brown Vetoes Road User Safety Laws Including Hit-and-Run, Vulnerable User

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jose Vasquez leaves a candle at the ghost bike memorial for Andy Garcia, killed in a vicious hit-and-run last year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In the last hours before the deadline for signing legislation from this year’s legislative session, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a batch of bills that could have improved safety for bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.

Included in the list of today’s vetoes are three bills addressing the problem of hit-and-run crimes. Two of them would have increased penalties for convictions, and one would have made it easier to catch hit-and-run perpetrators. This brings to a total of four bills on the issue that passed both houses of the legislature with very few no votes—some unanimously—only to end up on the governor’s chopping block.

The governor’s general objection to creating new crime categories and increasing penalties was his excuse for declining these bills.

For similar reasons, Brown also vetoed Assemblymember Mark Levine’s “vulnerable user” bill that would have defined bicyclists and pedestrians, and a few other groups, as a special category of road users, and raised fines for conviction of violations that result in injury to them.

Another bill vetoed today was one that would have assessed a violation point against a driver’s record if convicted of using a cell phone or texting while driving. A second provision of the bill, requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to include at least one question on the driver’s license exam addressing the dangers of distracted driving, may happen anyway. Brown, in his veto message [PDF], writes that he has directed the DMV to add such a question.

Here’s a full list of bills that would have made the roads safer that were axed by the Governor: Read more…

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Governor Vetoes One of Four Hit-and-Run Bills; Deadline for Others: Today

hit and run

Glendale Police released a video showing a woman being struck by a car in a hit-and-run last week.

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed one of four hit-and-run bills passed by the California Senate and Assembly. A.B. 2337, by Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), would have increased the automatic driver’s license suspension for a hit-and-run conviction from one to two years.

Despite near unanimous support in both houses of the legislature, Brown vetoed the bill on Thursday, writing in his veto message [PDF], “While I consider hit-and-run collisions to be very significant events, current penalties seem to be at appropriate levels.”

A.B. 2337 was one of four bills addressing the issue of hit-and-run crimes that the legislature passed this year; the other three have neither been signed nor vetoed as of this morning. Today is the deadline for the governor to sign bills from the current session.

Assemblymember Linder’s bill “would’ve given some real teeth to current hit-and-run penalties,” wrote Damian Kevitt in response to the veto. Kevitt was seriously injured in 2013 in a hit-and-run collision. Since his crash he has been actively involved in campaigning for better laws and better enforcement of hit-and-runs through his organization, Finish the Ride–which was originally named after his personal goal of completing the ride he started on the day he was hit.

The driver of the car that dragged him on the freeway, broke multiple bones, and caused him to loose a leg has never been caught.

“The current penalties for hit and runs are scaled based on severity of injury of the hit, not the fact of having made a conscious decision to run from the scene in the first place. This makes about as much sense as penalizing someone for DUI based on their blood alcohol level instead of for … having made that moral choice to recklessly drive drunk in the first place,” wrote Kevitt.

Drivers involved in hit and runs often act out of fear of being prosecuted not just for the collision but also for something else, such as driving without a license or driving under the influence. Kevitt points out that, “if they’re ever caught, usually the penalties … are mitigated to save legal time and money, meaning perpetrators can in some cases get off with only a fine and no felony record — not exactly what I would call proper justice.”

“I’d like to give Governor Brown the benefit of the doubt and hope that [his staff has] severely underplayed the epidemic of hit and runs occurring throughout the state,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Kevitt’s organization, Finish the Ride, is working with the California Bicycle Coalition, LACBC, and “other like-minded organizations,” to “galvanize a maelstrom of well-informed citizens” to convince the governor to sign the other hit-and-run bills on his desk:

  • A.B. 1532, from Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles): would require an automatic six-month license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run collision in which a person was hit, whether that person is injured or not.
  • A.B. 47, also from Gatto: would allow law enforcement authorities to use existing alert systems to broadcast information about vehicles suspected of being involved in a hit-and-run collision, to help catch perpetrators.
  • A.B. 2673, from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would remove the possibility of a civil compromise in the case of a hit-and-run conviction.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. about California transportation to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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California Bill Would Remove Legal Loophole for Hit-and-Run Drivers

Assemblymember Steven Bradford

California Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena)

The California Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill next week from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) that would close a loophole in state law that allows some hit-and-run perpetrators to avoid criminal prosecution.

Current law requires any driver involved in a collision that results in injury, death, or property damage to stop and provide contact information to the victim or to police at the scene of the crash. But if the driver later returns, and eventually works out a civil agreement with the victim, the court can drop misdemeanor hit-and-run charges. Bradford’s bill, A.B. 2673, would remove that option when a hit-and-run causes injury or death.

“Hit-and-run crimes are a particularly dangerous offense, and they are on the upswing,” Bradford wrote in a press release. “A person involved in an accident who refuses to even stop poses a great danger to society and they should not be able to buy their way out of facing punishment for endangering the public. Writing a check may clear a dangerous driver’s conscience, but it should not automatically clear their record.”

Read more…

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Gatto and Englander Stump State Legislation for Hit-and-Run Alert System

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes. Behind Gatto are, left to right, LACBC’s Eric Bruins, two LAPD representatives, L.A. Councilmember Mitch Englander, and Finish the Ride’s Damian Kevitt. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At a press conference on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall yesterday, state and local legislators joined forces with local non-profits to draw attention to efforts to stem the tide of hit-and-run crimes. The press conference focused on A.B. 47 – a proposal to create a new emergency alert system to notify the public to help apprehend hit-and-run suspects. The alert system would use existing state-controlled sign boards on state-controlled freeways, so it will require state legislation.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto enumerated the gruesome hit-and-run statistics: 20,000 hit-and-run collisions take place in L.A. County each year; 4,000 of these result in death or serious bodily injury; only 20 percent of fatal hit-and-run perpetrators are arrested. Gatto relayed the story of a similar alert system in Colorado which resulted in the city of Denver increasing their apprehension rate from 20 percent to 75 percent.

Gatto is the author of A.B. 47 and also A.B. 1532 which would suspend drivers licenses of perpetrators of hit-and-runs. Both of these bills passed the State Assembly in June, and now await State Senate approval. If A.B. 47 passes the Senate by the end of August, and is approved by the Governor, then hit-and-run alerts could begin in January 2015.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander called L.A. hit-and-run crimes “an epidemic of biblical proportions.” Englander emphasized that fleeing a crash scene should never be called an “accident.”  Englander was one of the proponents of official L.A. City support for hit-and-run alerts in concept (approved), and for A.B. 47 specifically (introduced, pending council approval.)

Hit-and-run survivor Damian Kevitt emphasized that Gatto’s bills may not end these crimes, but fear of apprehension and penalties could create “a moment of thought where drivers think about what they’re doing.” Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins emphasized that these hit-and-run proposals key to creating a culture of greater street safety for everyone.

With gruesome hit-and-runs taking lives daily on L.A. streets and sidewalks, passage of these proposals is urgently needed.

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Here is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

School Zone Safety: S.B. 1151 from Anthony Canella (R-Ceres) would raise fines for traffic infractions within school zones. The bill passed the Assembly Transportation Committee, 14-0, and now goes to the Appropriations Committee.

Vulnerable User Law Jumps Ahead: A.B. 2398 from Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) was withdrawn from the Senate Public Safety Committee because that committee agreed with a recent amendment to lower the limit on maximum fines under the bill. Now it goes straight to Appropriations, where the deadline to get out of that committee is August 15. Session ends August 31.

Hit-and-Run Bills on Track: Two bills from Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) both passed their committees this weekA.B. 47 would create a “yellow alert” system to find hit-and-run perpetrators and A.B. 1532 would automatically suspend a driver’s license for leaving the scene of a crash where someone is hit. A.B. 1532 was also amended to add the possibility charging a of a non-injury hit-and-run as either an infraction or a misdemeanor, but the six-month license suspension remains.

Bicycle Infrastructure Funds From Vehicle Registrations: S.B. 1183 by Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) passed the Assembly Transportation Committee after being amended this week. This bill would allow local agencies to propose a fee of no more than $5 on vehicle registrations to pay for the maintenance of bike paths. The fee would have to be approved by two-thirds of the voters in the districts where it would apply. This week’s amendments include the addition of a sunset date of January 2025 and a requirement to report to the legislature on revenues received and projects supported by the fee. The 10-4 vote moves it to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Protected Bike Lanes: A.B. 1193 from Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) was amended and passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee this week.

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on state-wide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page.

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CA Bills to Crack Down on Hit-and-Run Drivers Sail Through Committees

Two bills focused on addressing hit-and-run crashes, authored by CA Assemblymember Mike Gatto, appear quickly on their way to being passed. A.B. 47, which would create an alert system on California highways to help the public assist police in catching drivers involved in hit-and-run crashes, sailed through the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday with a 6-1 vote. A.B. 1532Gatto’s other bill which increases fines and penalties for hit-and-run drivers, passed a separate committee.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto looks on as Damian Kevitt testifies to the Senate Public Safety Committee. Image: CA Senate

The bill has seen a torrent of support from a broad range of constituents, including bicycle and pedestrian advocates and public safety workers. Its next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At the hearing, Gatto testified that the bill specifies certain criteria that would have to be met before authorities could use the system, to allay concerns that it would be overused. A hit-and-run crash would have to involve a fatality or serious bodily injury, and officials would need at least partial plate numbers and a description of the vehicle.

“We have an apprehension rate in this state of 20 percent,” said Gatto, “so 80 percent of hit-and-run perpetrators never get caught. The city of Denver created a similar system in 2012; at the time they also had a twenty percent apprehension rate, and now they have a 76 percent rate of apprehension.”

“This is a smart way to make sure we can catch the people who commit the most heinous and cowardly accidents on the road with a deadly weapon—because vehicles are deadly weapons,” he said.

Damian Kevitt, a hit-and-run victim who now leads the “Finish the Ride” movement in Southern California, urged Senators to vote for the bill. He described the gruesome crash that left him for dead on the freeway a year ago, and called his recovery a “testimony to modern medicine.” Read more…

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Weekend Memorial Events Highlight Continued Vulnerability of Cyclists

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

For those of us who pay attention to such things, it was a terribly mournful weekend.

Friday night, friends and family gathered at 47th and Normandie to witness the installation of a ghost bike in honor of hit-and-run victim Oscar Toledo, Jr., at the growing memorial there.

His youth and the freshness of the event meant that emotions were running high. When I spotted Toledo’s girlfriend, she threw herself into my arms, her body shaking with sobs.

“IT’S BEEN THREE FUCKING DAYS!” she wailed in disbelief.

She wasn’t the only one in tears. As the group gathered in a circle to hold hands and say a few words about Toledo, people cried openly and cursed both the unfairness of their loss and the person who had done this to someone they had loved.

The mood was more subdued Saturday afternoon for the Memorial Ride for Benjamin Torres, killed in an early morning hit-and-run in Gardena.

When the East Side Riders — now, in conjunction with Los Ryderz and the team from Ghost Bike Documentary — promised to do a monthly ride to honor Torres until justice was finally served, I don’t know if they realized justice would seem more elusive than ever two years on.

We had all hoped someone would come forward or have a change of heart and accept responsibility for the deed. Instead, the family has had to find solace in their memories and the ever-growing network of families and friends whose loved ones have been left to die in the streets.

But, even when the perpetrator is known, there is a limit to the comfort that knowledge and the extended bike family can offer, as was evident at Sunday’s memorial ride and vigil for Phillip O’Neill.

The case against the driver Jose Gonzales, charged with manslaughter for striking O’Neill from behind and killing him, is currently making its way through the court system. Unfortunately, as the friends and family of September hit-and-run victim Andy Garcia know all too well, Gonzales’ prosecution will neither bring O’Neill back nor fill the void his loss created.

Read more…

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“What Happened to Human Decency?”: Friends and Family of South L.A. Hit-and-Run Victim Seek Answers

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather to mourn at the site where he was killed by a hit-and-run driver near 47th and Normandie in South L.A.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather to mourn at the site where he was killed by a hit-and-run driver near 47th and Normandie in South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“I know it wasn’t even his fuckin’ fault!” railed Daniela, 19.

She was unsuccessfully fighting back tears yesterday as she stood alongside the light pole serving as the unofficial memorial site for bicyclist Oscar Toledo, Jr., killed in a hit-and-run at 47th and Normandie in South L.A. less than 24 hours earlier.

Toledo had “always [been] chillin’ on his mountain bike; always safe,” she said. And, because he had grown up on the streets and had always had to watch his back, he was hyper-aware of what was around him, careful about safety, and “always on his toes.”

So, when she got the call from Toledo’s younger brother at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, she couldn’t believe it.

He had just been at her house earlier that night. She had just seen him — it didn’t make any sense.

She and Toledo’s best friend agreed to go to the hospital first thing in the morning to “see if it was real.”

Seeing him laying there, bloody and hooked up to so many tubes had been overwhelming. It denied her one last chance to hold him in her arms.

“I told him, ‘I really couldn’t imagine life without you,’” she said of a recent conversation they had had.

Hugging herself, she leaned against the exterior of a building and stared at the small memorial they had set up.

“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Read more…

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Gatto Legislation Would Create Alert System For Hit-and-Run Crashes

Police in Orange in Southern California released this picture of a truck driven by a hit-and-run perpetrator two weeks ago. With AB 47, there would be a much higher chance drivers like this one are caught. Photo: NBC4

It is too common a story. A family is crossing the street or some friends are bicycling along when a negligent car driver changes their lives forever. While the victims lie wounded in the street, the driver flees and is never heard from again. Advocates for safe streets, victims of hit-and-run crashes, and their friends and family say that there are not enough resources or legal protections for victims.

Asm. Gatto

Assemblymember Mike Gatto

One California Assemblymember has vowed to change that.

Assembly Bill 47, a heavily amended version of legislation re-introduced this week by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-LA), would create a statewide “yellow alert system” modeled after the Medina Alert system, which was created in Denver but is now a statewide program in Colorado.

The system would require that Caltrans and other highway owners use electronic signage, radio, and other available media to broadcast information about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run crashes. Unlike alerts issued over TV news, the yellow alerts would enlist drivers and other road users to spot hit- and-run drivers right away.

Basically, the bill would create an “Amber Alert” system similar to what is used when a child is kidnapped to help catch hit-and-run drivers.

“These are crimes which, by their nature, occur at a high rate of speed and with clear means for fleeing the scene,” said Gatto.  “The public is almost always needed to catch those who leave fellow citizens dying on the side of the road, and AB 47 will allow us to do so promptly, before the perpetrator can get away and cover up the evidence.”

Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations on prosecuting hit-and-run drivers.  This year, he also introduced AB 1532, which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person.  Read more…