What Can I Do?
There are so many emotions left behind by the hit and run driver and one of the common requests we get are "what can we do?". Most of the letters are from family members of victims who are appalled, angry, sorrowful, and desperate for answers and/or help. They may feel the police aren't being as helpful as they should be or that the media is not giving the matter the attention their loved one deserves. This article was written to help you identify ways other hit and run drivers have been captured and how you might be able to help this repeat itself in your case.
First of all we encourage you to work closely with the investigative law enforcement officer in your case. This person is at the center of the investigation and will know things he or she cannot tell you due to the sensitivity of their position, and any potential court case. They are also fully aware of the legal implications, both criminal and civil, to anything that they might say to you. Therefore, many times when you may feel they are being less than forthcoming, it is highly likely there is a good reason. When dealing with this person, remember the golden rule. Treat them exactly like you want be treated. We would never accuse a police officer of 'burying' a case because the family is accusing them of being indifferent, but human nature could dictate how aggressive they may be on your case when they have so many investigations pending. Cooperate fully with the officer. Please keep in mind, the officer has other equally important cases he, or she, will be working on.
Hit and run accidents will usually be solved within a few months. However, some may take years. We have heard of 3 separate hit and run arrests so far this year (2004) in cases from the 1990's. Depending on how the officer wants to proceed with your case, the media has played a great role in assisting law enforcement officers identify and arrest hit and run drivers quickly. If the officer approves, try to get the media to give your lost loved one as much media attention as you possibly can. Getting the media involved is where you may find difficulty. They want a story that will affect their audience. A story that doesn't tug at the general public's heart strings or make them angry stands little chance of getting much press. It's a sad fact of life that the media is a business, and even in news, they must give the public what they want to survive. Yes, we can spend the rest of our lives blaming the press for everything that is wrong in our society, but in reality, the press is a reflection of who we are and how we want to be informed. You will do best to identify what they need and find a way to give it to them, because sadly, you need them more than they need you.
Right now, immediately after losing a loved one, is not the time anyone would want a camera stuck in their face. No one wants others to see them when they are down, we like to keep our tears private. But someone out there knows something, and via that reporter, and thru their camera lense or pen, you must reach out to that person and make them want to help you. We will not discuss all of the ways the media has assisted a family, but in a recent case in Arizona, an actual hit and run driver felt so guilty after witnessing the effect on the family, they surrendered to police. The media, outside the police and prosecuting attorney, can be your greatest ally. Use them, and let them use you, to find your loved ones killer. (If you are not comfortable speaking to the press, many families have a spokesperson deal with the media on their behalf. A family friend, a relative, a neighbor....someone you trust to best represent your loved one in the public eye.)
Rewards are another way of finding out information. Sadly, some people with information may care little about anything more than benefiting from the information. Maybe that's not the crowd you want to reward, but it could easily be this particular crowd has the info the police need. Contact Crimestoppers, if there is one in your area. If your law enforcement agency has an anonymous tips line, ask if they will post a reward for your case. Some who may have information and not interested in profiting from it, but may be afraid of getting involved for personal reasons, may be more willing to give the information anonymously with their identity concealed. If you post your own private reward, we suggest you seek legal assistance before proceeding.
Capturing a hit and run driver is only the beginning of your emotional roller coaster. It is up to the prosecuting attorney and the case he/she has that will determine how aggressive they can or cannot be in court. A cooperative family can sometimes be a must for a successful conviction. You may not want to testify, and you may not want to face the driver in court, but you are not there for yourself, but for your loved one who lost their life. Please cooperate fully with the DA.
If your case goes to trial, represent your family member respectfully. Consider
wearing large buttons with the photo of your loved one on it. Children wearing
tee shirts outside a courtroom with the photo of a fallen child or parent
is effective, not only for the jury but drawing media attention. This identifies
you and others representing your family member to the jury.
Should the driver be convicted and receive a light sentence, and you feel justice has yet to be properly served, you may want to seek out an attorney and consider a civil wrongful death suit.
Regretfully, many hit and run laws are not strengthened in states until someone is killed, usually a child, in a particularly media grabbing case. Contact your state congressman and identify yourself as the family of a hit and run victim who wants to see hit and run laws in your state strengthened. Explain to them why it is ridiculous that a drunk driver arrested at the scene stands a better chance of conviction and sentence than a drunk driver who flees the scene and is arrested later. Other laws that should be addressed are the abolishing of statute of limitations in fatal hit and run cases. Ask them how you can help. Once again, media attention may be helpful here. Review your state laws here.
If you are involved in a case that has gone no where, there are ways to potentially have the media re-visit your case. An anniversary of a tragedy (1 month, 6 months, 1 year) is an opportunity to seek them out. Fund raisers for the family or to establish a reward held by churches, neighborhood associations, or other organizations can draw attention. A roadside memorial or candlelite ceremony can potentially be effective. And don't be afraid to call the investigating officer often to see if they have any additional information or case update. They will probably call you if they have any but it never hurts to let them know you are out there still supporting them and in need of their help.
There are a few facts in life to keep in mind. People, in general, want to help. Right now, you may not have a high opinion of the public, since one of them murdered your loved one and everyone seems to be suspect - but the key to remember is that only one of them is a murderer. Most of the others want to be helpful. Second, the police are on your side. Cooperate fully with them. Third, the media needs an interesting story. If they refuse to cooperate with you, don't burn your bridge with them.
If you are a family member or friend of a hit and run victim, please accept our deepest regrets. This web site was created to bring public attention to this nationwide tragedy and hopefully help make it so others will never suffer the pain you are in. May you find renewed peace and a sense of security.
If you find this page useful, or have other advise to share, please contact us
May 3, 1980 - 13 year old Cari Lightner was walking to church when she was struck by an intoxicated hit and run driver and killed. Although the driver had a record of 3 drunk driving convictions, and was out on bail from a drunk driving crash just two days before, he received a 2 year sentence and was allowed to serve it in a work camp and halfway house. Her mother, Candy Lightner, was so appalled by the sentence, she resigned from her realtor job and founded Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (now Driving) (MADD) in 1980.
September 7, 1992 - 18 year old Christina Spizzirri was driving home when she was struck by a hit and run driver. Police officers and bystanders, first at the scene, waited for EMS personnel to apply medical aid. Before their arrival, Christina bled to death. Had police performed first aid, no one knows whether her life might have been saved, but due to legal liability issues, most officers were discouraged from making any attempts at first aid. Two months after the death of her daughter, Carol J Spirrizzi founded the very successful Save A Life Foundation.
October 26, 2003 - Troy, aged 10, and Alana, aged 7, were struck and killed in a hit and run accident while walking with their mother to buy ice cream. Their parents, Bob and Carmen Pack, formed the Troy and Alana Pack Foundation, which has been very effective in getting California DUI laws strengthened.