String of hit-and-runs leaves trail of ques­tions

Driv­ers who ‘fail to re­main’ at scene of col­li­sion should face harsher penal­ties, ad­vo­cates say

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - BEN SPURR TRANS­PORTA­TION RE­PORTER

Fred An­saldo never saw the driver who hit him com­ing. He was rid­ing a Bike Share bi­cy­cle on Front St. W. a few days be­fore Christ­mas in 2016 when he sud­denly felt some­thing strike his back wheel.

The im­pact launched him off the bike and onto the hood of the car. He fell to the ground, and rolled out of the way just in time to see one of the ve­hi­cle’s wheels com­ing to a stop inches from his head.

As he lay there dazed, a re­al­iza­tion struck him. “Oh s---,” he thought. “She’s run­ning away.”

The driver had stopped mo­men­tar­ily af­ter the im­pact, An­saldo re­called in a re­cent in­ter­view, but he watched in shock as the per­son be­hind the wheel sped off down Front St., in full view of the crowds of peo­ple on the busy down­town street in the morn­ing rush hour.

“It was sur­prise first, be­cause I couldn’t be­lieve my eyes,” An­saldo said. “And then it was anger.”

The hit-and-run col­li­sion left An­saldo with a bro­ken tail­bone, and he said still ex­pe­ri­ences pain as a re­sult of the in­ci­dent. But other vic­tims of sim­i­lar crashes haven’t es­caped with only in­juries.

In the past three weeks, there has been a rash of fa­tal hit-and-runs in Toronto. Since Sept. 21, four driv­ers have fled col­li­sions that left a pedes­trian dead, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics com­piled by the Star based on po­lice news re­leases and me­dia re­ports.

Of the 32 pedes­tri­ans killed so far this year, nine of them were vic­tims of hit-and-runs. They in­clude 50-year-old Is­abel So­ria, who died af­ter she was hit by the driver of a pickup truck on Duf­ferin St. on June 11.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, the driver got out of the ve­hi­cle, ap­proached the dy­ing woman, and then sped off. A 27-year-old man from Oshawa was later ar­rested.

On Sept. 26, a 61-year-old man was run down while cross­ing St. Clair Ave. E. The same day, a 79-year-old was struck in Scar­bor­ough by a mini­van driver who left the scene; the vic­tim died 10 days later.

In re­sponse to the Star’s ques­tions last week, Toronto po­lice couldn’t im­me­di­ately say whether the num­ber of “fail to re­main” col­li­sions in 2018 rep­re­sents an in­crease over pre­vi­ous years. Nor could they say whether the ma­jor­ity of driv­ers who flee the scene are even­tu­ally ap­pre­hended.

But Sgt. Brett Moore of traf­fic ser­vices said “the pub­lic and po­lice take th­ese crimes es­pe­cially se­ri­ously and ap­ply all avail­able re­sources and tech­niques to solve them.”

The penal­ties for hit-and-run driv­ers who are caught can be se­vere. Un­der the Crim­i­nal Code of Canada, a per­son who know­ingly leaves the scene of deadly ac­ci­dent is li­able for a max­i­mum sen­tence of life in pri­son. If the vic­tim was se­ri­ously in­jured, the driver could be jailed up to 10 years.

How­ever, driv­ers can also face lesser, non-crim­i­nal charges un­der the provin­cial High­way Traf­fic Act, which sets max­i­mum penal­ties for leav­ing the scene at a $2,000 fine and up to six months im­pris­on­ment.

When driv­ers do face crim­i­nal charges, they of­ten get far less than the max­i­mum.

In 2012, a driver who left the scene af­ter killing 30-year-old Kevin Mounce in Ni­a­gara Falls, and who tried to cover up the crash by hid­ing her car and hav­ing a friend se­cretly re­pair her dam­aged wind­shield, re­ceived a jail sen­tence of two years less a day.

Lawyer and road safety ad­vo­cate Pa­trick Brown, who rep­re­sented Mounce’s fam­ily in a civil suit, ques­tioned whether such sen­tences go far enough. He said any hit-and-run is “an egre­gious crime.”

“As soon as you leave the scene, you’ve made an in­ten­tional act to leave some­body back there,” he said. “That is a crim­i­nal act, and it should be faced with very harsh crim­i­nal penal­ties.” He ar­gued non-crim­i­nal High­way Traf­fic Act charges are al­ways in­ap­pro­pri­ate for hit-and-runs.

Al­though lit­tle re­search has been done on the sub­ject, Paul Thomas Cle­ments, a foren­sic psy­chi­atric be­hav­iour an­a­lyst and pro­fes­sor at Philadel­phia’s Drexel Uni­ver­sity, said there’s a “broad con­tin­uum” of types of driv­ers who flee the scene of a se­ri­ous crash.

Cle­ments said the most com­mon are driv­ers who al­ready are com­mit­ting an­other of­fence at the time of the col­li­sion, such as driv­ing drunk or with a sus­pended li­cence, and leave to avoid harsher pun­ish­ment.

Other hit-and-run­ners sim­ply panic as a re­sult of a “fight or flight” re­sponse, he said. This group is more likely to turn them­selves in, es­pe­cially if they’re younger.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence is teenagers and younger peo­ple … tend to be the ones who can’t deal with the guilt,” he said. “As soon as they saw that they hit some­one, they just hit the gas and go, they’re not think­ing. But then when they get home and they start think­ing about the re­al­ity of it, those who have moral­ity just can’t deal with the guilt.”

A smaller group sim­ply ex­pe­ri­ence no re­morse at in­jur­ing some­one.

Cle­ments said this type of driver may have a se­ri­ous per­son­al­ity dis­or­der that en­ables them to ra­tio­nal­ize what they’ve done, of­ten by blam­ing their vic­tim with ar­gu­ments like “if you weren’t out in the road so far, I wouldn’t have hit you.”

The re­cent hit-and-runs in Toronto in­clude a tragic crash that killed 34-year-old artist and fa­ther An­dre Alexan­der. He was rid­ing his skate­board on Shep­pard Ave. E. at about 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 8 when he was hit by a driver who, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, got out of her car, checked on Alexan­der and then drove away. Long­time friend Chris Hughes said he and Alexan­der’s fam­ily are hop­ing the driver turns her­self in, not be­cause they want her to be pun­ished, but be­cause her de­ci­sion to leave the scene has left them with painful ques­tions about what hap­pened in Alexan­der’s fi­nal mo­ments.

“The fam­ily just wants to lay him to rest right now and sort of grieve. It’s a tragedy,” Hughes said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. “But we do want an­swers too.”

He said he didn’t think there was any­thing he or the fam­ily could say to con­vince the driver to come for­ward, but he hoped her con­science was weigh­ing on her.

“I’m not cer­tain if there’s any words. It’s been three days now ... I think it’s just go­ing to be her own emo­tion and guilt that will do the trick.”

It’s been two years since An­saldo was hit on his bike on Front St., and no charges have been laid against the driver who struck him. He’s still fum­ing the driver hasn’t faced con­se­quences .

He said he was able to get the car’s li­cence plate num­ber. But ac­cord­ing to his ac­count, which the po­lice nei­ther con­firmed nor de­nied, of­fi­cers told him they went to the home of the woman who owned the ve­hi­cle, but she said some­one else had been be­hind the wheel. When the po­lice re­turned about a week later, she had dis­ap­peared.

“I’m very, very up­set about it,” he said. “Not only (did) she hit me, she might be on the road again and she might hit other peo­ple.”

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE TORONTO STAR

Fred An­saldo was the vic­tim of a hit-and-run while rid­ing his bike in 2016, suf­fer­ing a bro­ken tail­bone. The driver has never been charged.

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