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

  • MarkB

    Video unavailable.

  • calwatch

    Unfortunately, ABC needs visuals to cover its story. You can have photos of the deceased person but a sheet on a roadway also identifies the topic, especially since many people watch TV with the sound off or half interested as they do other activities.

    The article states that, “Police say the victim, Anand Shah, was jaywalking when a vehicle slammed into him. He was declared dead at the scene.” ABC did not say this. And, indeed, on KNX, the police indicated that if the driver had stopped and rendered aid, and was not otherwise impaired, he almost certainly would not be charged with a crime. In the State of California, “jaywalking” is defined as crossing midblock (anywhere outside a crosswalk) between two signalized intersections, of which Doheny and 3rd and Doheny and Burton are both, and as the video shows Mr. Shah’s body was well outside of the range of the intersection. Thus, it’s a cross at your own risk situation, and the driver has the right of way.

    It’s standard practice to identify the residence of crime victims. The fact that he is from Norwalk helps humanize and localize the story for the millions of Southern Californians who get KABC. The police don’t have Andy’s background and work history, certainly not the day after the collision occurred.

    While I understand the sensitivities of the family of Mr. Shah, KABC is following standard journalistic practice. The police are correct in indicating that Mr. Shah was jaywalking, based on the location of the body and the collision point. Therefore, KABC should not modify its practices based on this letter.

  • Anon

    This is a response to Calwatch whose comment appears in answer to this post. By the very fact that you begin by saying “unfortunately” renders what follows rather problematic. ABC “needs visuals”? Sure, it’s television, but that doesn’t mean that discretion can’t be exercised. For you to then say that you “understand the sensitivities of the family” is just prevarication. What the letter-writers are trying to point to is how visuals themselves are misleading and not useful – you appear to have missed that point.
    You go on to offer the quibble that it was the police and not ABC that said the
    victim was jaywalking. Not only is what you allege the police say being reported by ABC, but if you watch the video, neither of the people from LAPD
    who are interviewed use the word jaywalking. One of them does say that the
    victim was crossing outside of a crosswalk. The argument being made in the
    letter isn’t about where a pedestrian crosses the street, but how reportage can skew matters especially when it comes to volatile cases such as hit and run accidents. At the end of the day, what remains is that the driver fled the
    scene.
    It is rather distressing that someone would go out of their way to comment on this post in defense of the media while still professing their understanding of the pain the family must be going through. Rather manipulative, much like news coverage of violence and death in Los Angeles.

  • Guest

    Wow insensitive much?

  • calwatch

    We should not let sensitivity get in the way of FACTS. While the deceased’s family has a right to send these letters and Streetsblog to publish them it is imperative that the reasons why the media do the things they do also be discussed.

  • calwatch

    The story was about the whole incident – both the jaywalking (crossing outside a crosswalk between two signalized intersections) and the hit and run. I don’t see anything wrong with the story, and ABC obviously doesn’t since they didn’t change their story online, or take down the video. It was a two minute story buried in a newscast that also prominently mentioned that it was a deadly hit and run. Would you rather ABC not cover the story at all?

  • Guest

    It would appear that the purpose of the letter was to draw attention to the need for better and more sensitive reporting rather than that such stories not be covered.

  • Guest

    Being factual and sensitive are not mutually exclusive.

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