Los Angeles sees rise in bicyclist hit-and-runs

AP News
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Posted: Nov 29, 2014 4:11 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hit-and-run collisions between cars and bicyclists have increased 42 percent between 2002 and 2012 in Los Angeles County despite an overall drop in hit-and-run accidents, according to a published report Saturday.

More than 5,600 cyclists were injured and at least 36 died in crashes as hit-and-run cases involving pedestrians, bikes and other cars have dropped by nearly one-third, the Los Angeles Times reported (http://bit.ly/1yowEfd). The paper arrived at its numbers by analyzing years of California Highway Patrol crash data.

The surge is troubling as more cities embrace bicycle-friendly amenities such as shared lanes and as the popularity of bicycle commuting rises in Los Angeles County. During the last five years, the city of Los Angeles has added 120 miles of bike lanes, the Times reports.

One-fifth of all hit-and-runs involving bicyclists happened in five cities — Long Beach, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Van Nuys and North Hollywood — and they disproportionately involved younger people. About 80 percent of these bike-versus-car hit-and-runs weren't resolved, and less than half of those that were were closed with an arrest, making it hard for injured bikers to collect restitution and pay medical bills.

Leaving the scene of a hit-and-run where someone is killed or seriously injured is a felony that can carry a sentence of up to four years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Fleeing when there are no serious injuries is a misdemeanor and can carry fines of $1,000 and less than a year in county jail.

The solve rate for these accidents is so low that "if you wanted to murder someone, it would almost be better to just hit them with your car," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who has pushed for stricter hit-and-run penalties for drivers.

Law enforcement agencies say there are thousands of hit-and-run cases each year and they must focus on those in which someone is seriously hurt or killed or where there is some evidence, such as an eyewitness or a partial license plate number.

"There are a lot of cases where we don't have a lot to go on," said Sgt. Daniel Dail, with the sheriff's traffic services detail.

Biker Paul Livingston was severely injured in 2011 when a car rammed into him at a red light in Beverly Hills. Livingston, then 35, was in a coma for six days and spent three years recovering from eight fractured vertebrae and a sheared pelvis.

The woman who hit him surrendered to police the following day, but it took prosecutors a year and a half to charge her with felony hit-and-run.

She eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two months in jail and $638,000 in restitution to Livingston, who lost his job because he could no longer lift heavy items and later lost his apartment when his disability payments weren't enough to cover rent.

The woman served two days in jail before being released early under a county policy that calls for the immediate release of all women sentenced to less than eight months.

Livingston has received $24.42 from the woman, who no longer lives in California, and is suing her for unspecified damages. "I was in a coma for longer than she was locked up," he said.