Californians Hope Alert System Will Help Catch Drivers Who Hit-And-Run
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In California people who hit someone with their car often get away with it. Seventy-five-hundred people in LA County alone fled a serious accident last year, and most will never be found. Now, as Matt Bloom reports, a proposed statewide hit-and-run alert system has families of victims hoping to get more of these drivers off the streets.
MATT BLOOM, BYLINE: 18-year-old Jeremy Creed's splintered skateboard along with the clothes he wore the night of his accident are in a box. His mother, Julie, is taking it out of the garage of her Rancho Santa Margarita home. It's about an hour south of LA. She picks up a pair of his black jeans.
JULIE CREED: It's thick jeans. You can see that it just shredded. So, I mean, if you're wearing that, you know you're going to be injured, and the same with the shoe. It's just shredded and the blood all over it and the board broken and the trucks snapped.
BLOOM: While skating one night in January of this year, Julie's son, Jeremy, swerved into the street to avoid some construction cones. That's when a speeding black Honda Civic clipped his side, never slowing down. A shard of glass from the driver side mirror severed his pinky toe.
JEREMY CREED: For someone to just drive off, you think what would their reasoning be, you know, because they don't know. They didn't stop, so for all they know, they could've killed me or, you know...
BLOOM: Today, Jeremy Creed is skating again. His family jokes about his toe. Nine toes is his new nickname at the skate park near his house. But alongside Jeremy and Julie Creed's sense of humor lies a much bigger problem.
CREED: It happens time and time again, and some of them are more horrific. I mean, we're lucky he survived. It's not just numbers. They're names. They're people, so we need to change with how hit-and-runs are addressed.
BLOOM: A new proposal in California would create an Amber Alert-like system for hit-and-run accidents. Law enforcement would display vehicle descriptions on hundreds of electronic message signs lining the state's freeways. The alert system wouldn't display all hit-and-runs though, only instances where someone is seriously injured or killed. California assemblyman Mike Gatto, who's sponsoring the bill, made it clear at a Senate hearing why he thinks the signs are the first step in finding these drivers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE GATTO: What we're getting at is the sweet spot where there is a hit-and-run that occurs and somebody has a partial license plate or a description of the vehicle that is sufficient enough to make it unique.
BLOOM: Police know that hit-and-runs are a huge problem, but the California Highway Patrol, which controls the freeway signs, says it isn't interested in another type of alert on the signs, as Captain Richard Desmond testified at the same Senate hearing.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICHARD DESMOND: Our concern is that it will saturate it to take away the public attention and focus on children who are in imminent harm and possibly overwhelm a system with other alerts that may be requested in the future.
BLOOM: Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar alert system last year for that same reason. But this year's proposal has a better chance of becoming law because a similar alert system in Colorado is helping catch more hit-and-run drivers. Washington and Texas have similar statewide proposals as well. Whether or not Governor Brown signs the bill in California, Jeremy Creed is focused on recovering and deciding what to do with his severed toe. He keeps it in the freezer and, with his family's sense of humor, Jeremy thinks about burying the toe, cremating it, setting it out to sea on a paper boat.
CREED: Or I even thought it would be funny to cast it in bronze and make a necklace out of it. I mean, those were all jokes, but I've got to do something with it. I can't have it in my freezer forever.
BLOOM: Like many hit-and-run drivers, the person who struck Jeremy that night hasn't been found. For NPR News in Los Angeles, I'm Matt Bloom. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.