Tuesday, April 2, 2013

LA WEEKLY: Hit-and-Run Blowback on LAPD

Excerpts from last weeks LA Weekly article on the hit-and-run epidemic that continues to plague Los Angeles.  A special thank you to my staff for their many volunteer hours working to apprehend Damian Kevitt's assailant.
Doctors try to save bicyclist's remaining leg as legislator calls for crackdown

The hit-and-run driver of the minivan that struck bicyclist Damian Kevitt one morning near Griffith Park must have felt and heard the impact. He probably saw Kevitt caught on his hood. Yet as horrified eyewitnesses gaped, the driver — a young, well-groomed Latino — took off down the on-ramp to the 5 freeway, sucking Kevitt under his minivan and dragging him 600 feet.

Trapped facedown, the 36-year-old cyclist was battered against the pavement, shearing off parts of his feet and big areas of skin. As he tried to free himself by grabbing at the road, the ends of some of his fingertips were ground off.

Seconds later, a motorist saw Kevitt's bloodied body roll into the second lane of the I-5. Kevitt's life was saved only because the quick-thinking driver used his car to create a safety zone, shielding the victim's body from the freeway traffic rushing past.

After the Feb. 17 incident, doctors at County/USC Medical Center were forced to amputate Kevitt's shattered right leg. But they repaired his broken wrists, arms and ribs, and soon, Kevitt and his doctors will be engaged in a heroic battle to save his maimed left foot, possibly by transplanting a muscle and healthy veins from Kevitt's back. (A previous effort to transplant a muscle taken from his abdomen to his left foot failed...)

...Coverage by local TV stations, coupled with anger from the local bicycling community, has generated unusually strong interest in the case. On Sunday, two aides to state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, Justin Hager and Jason Insalaco, joined the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, L.A. Critical Mass, Midnight Ridazz, CHP and others to leaflet cars and talk to spectators, soccer players and dog walkers who use the Ferraro Soccer Complex near the Los Angeles River on Zoo Drive, where Kevitt was struck...
...Investigators have a few important clues: The minivan, described as gray or white, bore a red-and-white "Se Vende" sign — and a phone number to call. According to CHP, that phone number, partially memorized by eyewitnesses, has a 213 area code and ends in 0776. A $25,000 reward offered by the city and the highway patrol seeks information that will lead to an arrest and conviction...

...Insalaco and Hager have gone to the soccer fields every few days, passing out a flyer seeking the public's help. "We feel the driver almost had to be someone involved in soccer that day," Hager says. 

Even as Gatto's aides work to drum up leads, the state assemblyman is tackling the bigger crisis. As the L.A. Weekly first reported, L.A. is in the grip of a little-discussed, decadelong hit-and-run epidemic. Drivers in the city flee nearly half of all collisions — more than 20,000 hit-and-runs annually. Nationally, 11 percent of collisions are hit-and-runs. In L.A., that rate has ranged in recent years from 42 percent to nearly 50 percent...

...Assembly Bill 184, authored by Gatto, would extend the statute of limitations on hit-and-runs from one year to three years. The bill cleared the state Assembly Public Safety Committee several days ago...

...Hit-and-run victim Don Ward, a bicyclist with Midnight Ridazz, memorized most of the license plate of the Jaguar driver who struck him and put him in the hospital a few years ago. Then Ward himself caught the driver — by calling Jaguar body shops. LAPD had informed Ward that they'd need a couple of weeks just to run the plate numbers.

The driver, convicted of "misdemeanor property damage" for crushing Ward's bike, was high-powered City Hall lobbyist Glenn Gritzner. Since it was too late to test Gritzner for drugs or alcohol by the time he was apprehended, a judge sentenced him to just 30 days of trash pickup.

"He didn't even have his license suspended," says Ward, who joined the leafletting of the soccer fields Sunday...

...Gatto's staff has investigated another possible law — one requiring auto body shops to report suspicious damage to law enforcement via email — but says it will take time to assess the costs and technical challenges of implementing such a law.

Even so, Gatto says police can do far more. "The story of Damian Kevitt being repeated and kept in front of people might force the government to act," the state assemblyman says. "This has been going on since way back, long before anyone could blame budget cuts."

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You can read this entire article and more at the LA Weekly by clicking HERE

Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada-Flintridge, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.   www.asm.ca.gov/gatto

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