Editor’s Note: The name of the victim in this article has been changed at her request. The story, facts, and other sources presented in this article remain factually accurate.
Valerie Beaty, a 20-year-old sophomore at MSU, sits curled in the fetal position a block away from the intersection of Fairview Street and Saginaw Street in East Lansing. Her bike lay a mere 10 feet away from her trembling body. The vehicle that hit her at 15 mph sped off after the collision and was nowhere in sight.
Originally from Sterling Heights, Beaty thought she had just become a victim of a hit and run. Beaty remembers how the accident happened. “I just remember making eye contact with the driver and seeing him slow down. However, when I proceeded, he accelerated and I tried to veer away, but he clipped the front of my tire,” said Beaty, “If I hadn’t tried to get out of the way, he would have hit my body directly.”
Beaty is what many might consider an average college girl. She juggles classes, a job and an internship and her life is about as hectic as one can imagine, like so many MSU students that fill the seats of classrooms and the streets on the weekends. But when a car struck her on the week of her birthday, she finally realized that maybe she wasn’t as invincible as she thought. Even more striking is the fact that if this happened to her, it could happen to anyone.
“I never wore my helmet or anything,” said Beaty. “I didn’t really understand how important it was until now.”
The driver that hit Beaty eventually came back to the scene of the crime and according to the police report the accident was filed under “no special circumstances,” not as a hit and run. The police would not disclose information about why the accident was not classified as a hit and run.
Beaty has heard many sides of the story from people that were around the scene of the accident at the time, but the complete true version is hazy.
By definition, “hit and run,” means a failure to stop after an accident has occurred. The law varies from state to state, but a hit and run is considered a serious charge and fluctuates with the severity of the accident. In Michigan, the law mandates that drivers pull over immediately after an accident and stay at the site, provide assistance, call for medics and report to the police if the crash involves injury or death or damages resulting in over $1,000.
But, this is also where the law gets tricky. The legislature, which was amended in 2005, states that if remaining at the scene of the accident could result in further harm then it is acceptable to leave the area and immediately contact the nearest police station or officer.
Failure to remain at the scene of an accident causing death, however, could result in felony charges. Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Montana, New Jersey, and Utah are the only eight states that do not consider fleeing the accident scene after killing someone to be a felony. “Usually, at the scene of an accident the officer has to determine from both of the people involved what really happened,” said Sergeant Matt Bolger of the Michigan State Police Department. “It all comes down to figuring out who was at fault.”
Beaty said that she believes her accident should be classified as a hit and run, but the police keep referring her to the crash report, which states her accident as having “no special circumstances.”
“At the time of the accident, I believed that Valerie was involved in a hit and run,” said John Beaty, Valerie’s father. “I was very concerned and wanted to bring her home to comfort her and surround her with tender love and care.”
Beaty is thankful for the loving family that she has. She even remembers her mother warning her about riding her bike on busy streets. For Beaty, it goes back to that old saying that parents know best.
Beaty suffered from minor injuries in the November 11, 2005 accident, but is still traumatized. “I haven’t ridden my bicycle since the accident,” said Beaty. “And I don’t plan on it anytime soon either.” While her accident was unfortunate, she was also luckier than many accident victims. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in 2003, 1,557 people were killed by hit and run accidents in the United States. Think about that for a second- almost 2,000 people were killed by drivers that hit them and fled the scene. Beaty is fortunate that she got out alive.
There are two types of hit and run accidents to be aware of: hit and run property damage accidents and hit and run personal injury accidents. Hit and run property damage is extremely common on and around campus. There is a good chance that before graduating from MSU, one will have seen or been involved in a hit and run regarding property.
“I was parking in a hurry and accidentally clipped a parked vehicle,” said Lindsey Berkey, journalism senior. “I knew I had to leave a note or else I’d feel so guilty, but just as I was writing my number down, a vehicle behind me smashed into another car and drove away like it was no big deal.”
Although property damage occurs most frequently, it is the hit and run personal injuries that affect people the most. “I was shocked when Valerie told me what happened,” said human resources sophomore, Tia Withers, a friend of Beaty who picked her up from the hospital. “It’s hard to believe that someone would hit a person on a bicycle and then drive away.”
In 2004, 37,822 hit and runs occurred in Michigan, according to Wendy Easterbrook, a crime analyst for the Michigan State Police Department. Out of those accidents, 82 people were killed.
Also, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety report, about one in five pedestrians that are killed on America’s roads are victims of hit and runs.
Sergeant Lance Cook of the Michigan State Police Traffic Services said most drivers that leave the scene of the accident are found. “Usually there is enough evidence at the scene of the accident for us to identify the car involved,” said Cook. “If a pedestrian was hit, we can tell by their injury where the bumper was damaged and chips of paint on the victim’s clothes can be analyzed.”
That could make anyone debate whether or not to leave the scene of an accident they caused. Another surprising fact: auto-repair shops are always on the lookout for any dents or cracks that look unusual. There are specific patterns related to a deer hit as opposed to a human.
Even after an investigation is underway, the statue of limitations prosecuting hit and run drivers present in almost every state limits the amount of time for investigation. The statue of limitations for hit and run accidents vary from state to state, but a majority of them only allow a couple of years before the case is closed and the driver escapes without penalty.
Easterbrook and Cook agree that the most common reason that people flee the scene is that they are under the influence of alcohol. “Generally, the drivers leave the accident when they are drunk, because they don’t want to get caught driving under the influence, but a hit and run penalty is much more severe,” said Cook.
Cook also said the most hit and run accidents happen during the holiday season, with most of the incidents occurring at night.
Though a victim cannot prevent a hit and run accident, Sergeant Florene McGlothian-Taylor of the MSU Department of Police and Public Saftey said people can be cautious when they are going for a walk or bike ride.
“If you are going out at night it is wise to put reflective clothing on and it is always a good idea to have identification on your body,” said McGlothian-Taylor.
Many students carry identification with them on campus, but they don’t really think to do it for safety reasons. “I feel lost without my ID, because around here, it is your life on campus,” said history sophomore Caitlin Brennecke. “You use it for your food, money, and sometimes attendance, but not for safety reasons, because I’d like to think I’m always going to be safe.”
Identification is always important to carry, especially when walking, biking or running on campus. It not only allows others to know who you are, but who they can contact to find out your information in emergencies.
McGlothian-Taylor recommends plugging in an emergency contact number under I.C.E (in case of emergency) in a cell phone in order for medics to know who to call immediately.
Nearly four months after the accident, Beaty still can’t seem to fall asleep some nights and pain shoots up her side every time the weather changes. “You never think something like that is going to happen to you,” said Beaty. “Sometimes I have nightmares that I’m back in the ambulance with an oxygen mask helping me breathe.”
Her bill just arrived from the hospital and she has about $5,000 in charges. After receiving numerous X-rays she is just thankful that it didn’t end up much worse. Beaty and the insurance company of the man that hit her are currently trying to work something out in terms of the hospital bill. Beaty is still angry that he kept going and didn’t pull over immediately.
“I wish he would have just stopped,” said Beaty. “I am not going to press charges, but out of respect for me as a human being, he could have at least made sure I was OK. I am indifferent towards him. However, I would have appreciated a phone call from him instead of just his insurance company.”