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Hit-and-run deaths reach record high nationally, locally; survivor shares her story

Posted at 10:47 AM, May 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-11 11:27:14-04

MARION COUNTY, Ind. -- More than one hit-and-run crash happens every minute in the United States, that’s according to research from the AAA Foundation for Safety.

In 2016, the death count across the country reached a record high with 2,049 deaths, a 60 percent increase from 2009’s death count.

Marion County statistics show that from 2011 through 2013, the average number of deadly hit and run crashes per year was eight. By the time 2014 rolled around, that number doubled to 16, and has averaged that number every year since.

Lieutenant Richard Kivett, who is part of the Marion County Traffic Partnership Branch and works on traffic investigations, said that between the dates of Jan. 1, 2016 through May 1, 2018, there were 51 fatal crashes here in Marion County. Of those crashes, 42 percent were hit-and-runs.

Kivett said factors include vehicle speed, lack of lighting on the streets and sidewalks, and impaired drivers—and pedestrians.

“A lot of our fatalities are at night time, which leads you to believe that a lot of people drink and drive, but a lot of people drink and walk also,” said Kivett.

He also said many pedestrians are struck because they just assume they can be seen.

“If you look at what they’re wearing, they’re always in dark clothing and that leads to more of them being struck because we have poor lighting conditions, dark clothing. They’re out late at night and people aren’t looking for them,” explained Kivett.

But, why would someone leave the scene after getting in a crash or hitting a pedestrian? Kivett said it could be a number of different factors.

“Most people, if they’re leaving the scene, there’s something wrong. Could be something as simple as maybe they’re driving while suspended or they have no license, or probably a lot of cases at night, they’re impaired either on alcohol or drugs,” said Kivett. He added, “People, at the time when they hit somebody, are thinking: one, they’re not going to be caught and second, that they would rather take their chances afterward then deal with something at the current time.”

Deadly hit-and-runs aren’t the only crash statistic that is up here in Marion County.

"Motor vehicle crashes are up, hit-and-runs are up, fatalities are up, and also fatal hit-and-runs are up,” said Kivett. He said distracted driving and the need to be connected to technology is a major factor in the increase in crashes, as people just aren’t paying attention.

The good news though, most hit and runs don’t go unsolved.

“Our fatal hit and runs here in Marion County have a very high solvability rate. We’re looking at probably 75 to 80 percent of those that are struck and killed, hit and run ends up solving the case,” Kivett said. "It’s amazing that they can take one little piece off a car and determine what color it was, what make it was, and just everything they can find and put that information together.”

Lt. Kivett also gave nod to the public and the media for helping in solving these cases.

“A lot of it has to do with the citizens too. Because every time that we have a fatal hit and run, and there’s no one that can get to it immediately, it’s put out in the media and the media puts that information out to the public. The public sees it and they will call in,” said Kivett.

One woman in Indianapolis was almost part of that deadly hit-and-run statistic after being hit by a car on Monday while walking to work.

Thankfully, she’s still here and is able to share her story.

Preschool teacher Jessica Parks, 27, was walking to work Monday morning, at Fervent Prayer Church on the city’s east side, when she was hit by a car at the intersection of 38th Street and Mitthoeffer Road.

"All I remember was flying up in the air and landing on the sidewalk," Parks said. "I tried to get up, but I realized that my legs was hurting, so I couldn't move."

“Everything was kind of fuzzy, everything was going in and out. But I did see my director, the pastor at church—he came across the street. A nurse on her way to work stopped. And a paramedic that was getting off of work saw the accident and stopped,” said Park.

The driver of the car that hit Parks, 36-year-old Juana Loa-Nunez, attempted to flee the scene, but failed, thanks to onlookers.

"The driver from the daycare, I'm glad that he acted swiftly and fast. Once he saw people come to my rescue, he went after her to stop her, as well as another car," explained Parks.   

Parks underwent emergency surgery for a broken tibia, but has a long journey ahead. She said they expect her recovery to take at least six months.

“Once I do leave the hospital, I'll have to go to rehabilitation to recover, to learn how to walk again," said Parks.  

Despite all of the hardships she will inevitably endure in the next few months, Parks is forgiving.

“I do want her to know that I do forgive her for hitting me and not stopping,” said Parks, of Loa.

Parks said she is going to use this test as her testimony.

“I am very blessed to be here,” Parks said.

Parks said she is most excited to return to work once she is fully recovered.

The driver of the car that hit Parks, Juana Loa-Nunez, had her first court appearance Thursday morning. She was charged with leaving the scene of a crash with serious injury, as well as a level 6 felony of operating a motor vehicle without ever receiving a license.

In the state of Indiana, if you commit a hit and run violation, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the injuries involved, according to the Indiana code. You can also have your license revoked or suspended, even if the injuries and damages caused are minor.

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