L.A. Hit-and-Run Crisis Uncovered by L.A. Weekly Prompts Official Demand for Answers from Charlie Beck and LAPD
Citing an L.A. Weekly probe that unveiled a hit-and-run crisis in Los Angeles, with drivers fleeing 48 percent of all crashes, Councilman Joe Buscaino asked the L.A. City Council to require LAPD to explain how it plans to crack down.
The Weekly investigation by Simone Wilson found that 20,000 hit-and-runs occur in L.A. annually, an epidemic level. Nationwide, 11 percent of crashes are hit-and-runs. In L.A., the rate is nearly five times that. L.A.'s epidemic is ignored by LAPD brass. Chief Charlie Beck keeps no meaningful data and does not know how many people are maimed. Bicycle activist Alex Thompson was first to report that 4,000 of the 20,000 annual hit-and-runs are felonies, involving an injury or death.
Buscaino's motion in City Council chambers today stated:
While the LAPD has made tremendous strides in overall crime reduction statistics, the amount of hit-and-run incidents that are occurring within city limits has continued to remain at a level disproportionate to the rest of the nation.
City News Service reports that Buscaino blamed City Hall's and LAPD's lack of a strategy to fight the epidemic on the understaffing of the LAPD's Traffic Divisions.
But the Weekly found far deeper problems than mere staffing. Simone Wilson's story delved into the horrific experiences of jewelry artist Marie Hardwick, who was badly maimed while legally crossing Wilshire Boulevard one night as she left an art exhibit at LACMA.
|Marie Hardwick in ICU after being mowed down outside LACMA.|
Hardwick today has a rebuilt jaw and permanent pins in her legs. She can't run and she can't stand being in rooms with air-conditioning, which makes the metal pins inside her legs feel like icicles.
Hardwick vividly recalled how she locked eyes with the fit, 30-ish, possibly multiracial male BMW driver who suddenly ran her down with his black BMW, leaving her for dead. Yet eyewitnesses and Hardwick say that LAPD officers who responded were disorganized and failed their basic police work:
Hardwick herself, an eyewitness, was never interviewed. The police left behind the key evidence of the crime -- the BMW's cracked-off side-view mirror, which may have contained the driver's fingerprints or trace DNA.
Buscaino's motion asks LAPD officials to report to the City Council's Public Safety Committee on what LAPD is doing to gain control over the hit-and-run crisis. It asks, "what additional resources, if any, would provide assistance to reduce the number of these incidents.''
The Weekly's investigation found that about a dozen traffic officers in each of the city's four traffic divisions must individually tackle some 400 hit-and-run investigations per year, a vast caseload.
Courtesy Marie Hardwick
But there is also disinterest in this crisis, beginning at the top.
When the Weekly was wrapping up its investigation, LAPD brass, including Chief Charlie Beck, appeared to be in denial. Beck refused to discuss the evidence unearthed by the newspaper, and he refused to discuss even the topic of hit-and-runs in Los Angeles.
Moreover, Beck's crime data division was unable to produce basic crime statistics about the number of serious hit-and-run accidents in Los Angeles, even though the newspaper gave them weeks to produce it.
In a followup story headlined "Victim Finds Hit and Run Driver," the Weekly reported that well-known bicyclist Don Ward gave up on the LAPD in disgust and personally hunted down Glenn Gritzner, the Silver Lake man who ran him over in Echo Park with his Jaguar and then fled.
Laying on the ground near his crushed bike, Ward saw and memorized most of the letters and numbers on Gritzner's Jaguar license plate as he drove away.
Don Ward found the Silver Lake driver who nearly killed him.
Ward was not badly hurt. When he got out of the hospital, LAPD informed Ward that they wouldrun the license plate -- maybe in two weeks. So Ward, a member of Midnight Ridazz bicycle club who goes by "Roadblock," and his attorney, Danny Jimenez, tracked down the license plate through a friend at CHP, and identified the driver.
Using pure guesswork, Ward tracked Gritzner's badly-damaged Jaguar to a pricey auto-repair shop in Pasadena. It was already being repainted and getting body damage fixed.
Gritzner turned out to be a rich, high-end political insider who works the rooms at Los Angeles City Hall, an executive at top-shelf lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs. Mercury Public Affairs also employs former California Speaker Fabian Nunez and other power-broker types.
Because there was no proof that Gritzner was under the influence when he struck Ward -- Gritzner illegally fled the crash scene, thus avoiding tests for drugs and alcohol -- Gritzner got off with a slap on the wrist.
As the Weekly reported, that's true for many L.A. drivers who run down pedestrians, bicyclists or other drivers and then flee. By the time LAPD catches up to them -- which is, in itself, very rare -- it's far too late to test for alcohol and drugs that could guarantee the drivers do jail time.