Oct. 20--Eighteen-year-old Mikayla Taylor saved her junior year of high school to buy a car by working part-time as a kennel technician for $9 an hour. She missed fun outings with friends to work full-time when school was out.
She paid $3,700 for a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicle outright, so she wouldn't have to face the challenge of making car payments and to help keep her insurance rates down.
But a hit-and-run driver changed all that.
When Taylor starts college, she will be balancing a new financed car, full insurance coverage and a full-time job as a kennel manager -- all because a driver didn't stop after colliding with her in September.
Taylor's situation is repeated by hundreds of victims of hit-and-run drivers every month, says Trooper Kenn Watson, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman.
"We have an issue with people not taking responsibility," Watson said of the fleeing drivers. "There are a plethora of people who leave the scene of a crash."
Most of the time the crashes are simple parking lot fender benders or bumps in residential neighborhoods.
Taylor was driving south on U.S. 41 when she followed a white truck right onto 53rd Avenue West. It's in front a Wawa. She turned into the left lane and the truck moved into the right. However, moments after turning, the truck made a quick U-turn in front of Taylor, smashing the right front side of her SUV. Her car limped into the parking lot at Wawa along with the pickup.
That driver continued through the parking lot and took off on U.S. 41. A deputy who was across the street radioed for help, but they did not catch the driver.
Taylor called her parents, and after hearing her daughter's tearful explanation, her mom raced to the scene concerned her daughter was more injured than she let on.
"You don't know when your kids are telling you they are OK because they are crying, but they're really not OK," Jennifer Taylor said.
She found her daughter standing next to the car, where she had activated the emergency flashers.
That act underscores the responsible approach Jennifer Taylor said her daughter has taken to vehicle ownership. Mikayla regularly checks her oil and tire pressure. She knows how to change a tire and asks her fiance, a mechanic, questions often. She had recently put a $400 radiator and new tires on the SUV, but the damage from the crash cost more than the vehicle was worth. She scrapped it.
The auto salvage yard initially offered $300, but ultimately gave her $400.
On Sept. 6, Jennifer Taylor pleaded with local residents on Facebook for help finding the suspect.
Fleeing is a crime
Since Jan. 1, 2018, there have been 102,756 hit-and-run cases statewide, the Florida Highway Patrol Crash Dashboard shows.
Taylor was fortunate. Among the statewide tally are 215 fatalities and 21,511 injuries.
Miami-Dade County, the most populous region in Florida with 2.7 million people, ranks first in hit-and-run crashes with 19,841. Sarasota County is 17th with 1,507 and Manatee County is 21st with 1,275. Sarasota has had six deaths and 306 injuries, while Manatee has had three deaths and 403 injuries.
Sgt. Anthony Frangioni, a traffic unit supervisor at the Sarasota Police Department, says there have been 388 hit-and-runs in the city, so far, in 2019. None have been fatal. Roughly 80% of the investigated crashes are resolved, the sergeant says.
There are a few self-serving reasons drivers flee the scene of a crash before making contact with the other driver or police.
"They are most likely an intoxicated individual, a person that has a warrant, or a person who does not have a driver's license," according to Frangioni, adding that 388 crashes of 2,465 in the city of Sarasota were hit-and-runs.
The cases range from minor parking lot fender benders that could result in citations to serious bodily injuries crashes with criminal charges. If you leave the scene you face aggravated charges.
Fleeing the scene of an accident that caused property damage is a second-degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Leaving the scene of a crash with injuries can be classified as a second- or third-degree felony punishable by a revoked license for at least three years, up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The worst-case scenario, a death, is a first-degree felony punishable by a revoked license for at least three years, a mandatory minimum of four years in prison, a maximum of 30 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. The ramifications to your insurance are trivial by comparison.
Watson said: "Even if it's you backing into a mailbox, if you leave the scene it goes from a traffic violation to a misdemeanor crime. Now you're going in front of a judge and the judge doesn't want to hear 'I was scared, so I left.' There are mitigating factors. It's the people who take responsibility and do the right thing; they're the one's who walk out (of court) in a better situation."
Fiscal hit, and psychological
While hit-and-run crashes make up about 8% of Sarasota County's collisions, they are among the most devastating kinds of collisions fiscally and psychologically, said Sarasota County Sheriff's Captain Bryan Iving, a special operations bureau and traffic unit supervisor.
Kaitlyn Kaser, 18, said she has coped with minor post-traumatic stress disorder since she was involved in a chilling hit-and-run crash that demolished her 2014 Mustang GT -- a sleek sky-blue car she purchased last year for her birthday. She posted an account of the wreck with pictures on Facebook seeking witnesses.
According to FHP, a driver in a 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee blew a stop sign Sept. 15, causing a "T-bone" collision with Kaser at 34th Street West and Fourth Street Drive West. After the crash, the driver fled the scene with haste traveling north on 34th Street and then left on Cortez with a blown left tire. The Jeep's drive stopped after the tire began spitting out pieces of rubber and shredded because of high speed.
The Florida Highway Patrol says Alyssa Hinkle, 23, of Bradenton has been identified as the driver, thanks to a witness who aided the woman after she stopped at Cortez Road and 59th Street West. Hinkle begged a man named "James" to use his phone to call her family and sent a text message to her sister.
James later sent a message to the number that Hinkle "ran a red light and that she killed a lady," which was not accurate. But the situation did not sit well with James, who called FHP to report it.
The report indicated that Hinkle's father picked her up.
Hinkle has also been charged with civil infractions, FHP said, and when asked about the crash that reportedly caused $25,000 in property damage, she referred investigators to a lawyer.
"It's pretty traumatizing," said Kaser, noting she had a broken thumb and burns from the airbag deployment. "One thing I keep saying to people is, 'I don't understand how someone can hit you and not even make sure you're alive.' The person could have killed me and the fact they kept going and showed no remorse and didn't turn themselves in, it makes me feel like I'm worthless.
"I'm dealing with the repercussions. I think about it every day. I see the images in my head every day."
She called FHP frequently for updates.
Hinkle was charged with two felonies -- third-degree leaving the scene of a crash without rendering aid and second-degree leaving the scene of a crash without giving information. She paid $1,620 bail and was released from the Manatee County jail on Wednesday.
Her driver's license was valid, according to an arrest report. The cause of the crash is being investigated.
Kaser has closure.
"I can't fathom a hit-and-run," she said. "I care about people."
Capt. Bryan Iving said identifying the culprit in hit-and-runs is difficult. Even when the vehicle is located, detectives must prove who was driving. He urges witnesses who have seen these crashes to report them to police.
"We can only go as far as a witness can lead us," he said. "Whether it's from a vehicle description and a license plate number that comes back to that vehicle, we follow the evidence on the roadway. Sometimes we use social media. ... Sometimes we get tips."
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