With hit-and-run crashes on the rise in Florida, state troopers and local law enforcement launched a campaign Monday to educate drivers about the consequences of leaving the scene of a crash.
From 2011 to 2012, the number of hit-and-run crashes rose from 65,516 to 69,994, an increase of about 6.8 percent. Hit-and-run wrecks claimed 168 victims in Florida last year — three in Collier and Lee counties, including Robin Wallace, an East Naples woman who was struck while riding her bicycle in September.
Troopers with the Florida Highway Patrol have not yet filed criminal charges against the driver who they believe killed Wallace, largely because of a lack of witnesses or other substantial evidence.
Lt. Greg Bueno, a Fort Myers-area spokesman for the FHP, said troopers struggle with combating attitudes of drivers who risk leaving the scene because it increases their chance of escaping without responsibility.
“We have to operate by the Florida statutes, and there are elements we have to have to make a charge in a case,” he said. “You look at leaving these scenes, and the consequences are heavy. In the event they get caught, they’re only making it worse.”
Driving away from a crash with injuries can mean a sentence of up to five years in prison, officials said. For crashes where someone dies, the penalty jumps to a possible 30 years.
“As a driver, it is your responsibility to remain at the scene,” Bueno said.
Bueno said he would be teaching driver’s ed classes in Southwest Florida this week as part of the campaign. He will also be promoting the FHP’s new hit-and-run section on its website, which in coming weeks and months will detail active cases being worked by investigators.
Drivers who may witness a hit-and-run crash are asked to call *FHP and try to get license plate information and the make and model of the runaway car, Bueno said.
“Witnesses are important, and they can remain anonymous,” he said. “Often, they’re instrumental in leading to an arrest.”