Los Angeles' hit-and-run crisis, which L.A. Weekly's Simone Wilson first exposed last year, has now gotten national attention.
On Friday night, the ABC news show 20/20 will air a segment about L.A.'s hit-and-run epidemic, which isn't so surprising considering that last weekend four people were killed in hit-and-run incidents and there have been 16 hit-and-run deaths so far this year, an LAPD detective revealed to 20/20.
"I think if we let the public know that these crimes are so frequent that we need their assistance, once they grasp that concept, you know, they will be able to help us more," LAPD detective Felix Padilla said. "The more they help us, the more cases we'll solve."
In December 2012, though, LAPD chief Charlie Beck refused to talk to the Weekly about L.A.'s hit-and-run crisis, even though the numbers were staggering.
L.A. Weekly found that there are 20,000 hit-and-runs annually in Los Angeles.
"That's huge, even in a city of 3.8 million people. In the United States, 11 percent of vehicle collisions are hit-and-runs," wrote the Weekly's Wilson. "But in Los Angeles, L.A. Weekly has learned, an incredible 48 percent of crashes were hit-and-runs in 2009, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. According to data collected by the state, some 4,000 hit-and-run crashes a year inside L.A. city limits, including cases handled by LAPD, California Highway Patrol and the L.A. County Sheriff, resulted in injury and/or death. Of those, according to a federal study, about 100 pedestrians died; the number of motorists and bicyclists who die would push that toll even higher."
In the 20/20 segment, Detective Padilla also touches upon a sensitive political issue: Undocumented immigrants are behind the hit-and-run crisis.
According to 20/20, "Padilla says one of the biggest reasons for the high rate of hit-and-run incidents in L.A., and a lack of witness participation, are the high numbers of undocumented immigrants living in the city, people driving without a license and afraid to interact with police. According to a recent report by the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, an estimated 1 in 10 residents living in Los Angeles County is undocumented."
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Padilla adds, " 'I was involved in the accident, I was afraid once I realized I didn't have a driver's license,' that phrase is what I get on a lot of these hit-and-run interviews, 'I was afraid because I didn't have a driver's license.' "
Chief Beck released a controversial hit-and-run study in June to the L.A. City Council's Public Safety Committee. The report, which was supposed to explain what LAPD was doing to get a grip on the epidemic, appeared more focused on discounting the Weekly's findings than addressing L.A.'s hit-and-run crisis.
See also "Chief Beck's Hit-and-Run Crisis."