Lead Story Local News West Edition

LAPD sees huge spike in hit-and-run collisions

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Treva Yvonne Arnold drew her last breath at the intersection of Slauson and Denker avenues during the wee hours of the morning Jan. 4. Witnesses say two different drivers struck her and fled the scene without stopping to help.

Debra Holt told The Wave that her daughter, a mother of two, was a crime victim before she was hit and left to die in the gritty industrial district adjacent to the Harbor Subdivision railroad tracks and the adjoining neighborhoods to the south.

“Treva had caught the bus from our home on 107th Street near Vermont Avenue to go to a birthday party in that area,” Holt said. “She was hit in the head with a sledge hammer by a supposed friend sometime after she got there — and that’s how she stumbled into the street and was killed. We celebrated her 40th birthday with a barbecue on Sept. 4.”

Arnold is just one of the many victims of hit-and-run accidents, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

As of Aug. 22, the LAPD had reported nearly 16,000 hit-and-run incident  — about 69 per day — across  its four bureaus — Central, South, Valley, and West — resulting in property damage, loss of life and serious injuries.  The collisions involve other motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Capt. David Kowalski, commanding officer of LAPD’s South Traffic Bureau, headquartered in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, said “if a driver hits someone and stops, it’s an accident, but, if he or she leaves, that’s a crime. We’re trying to promote the difference.

“After the drastic reductions over the last three years in traffic collisions in all categories, we’ve seen a huge spike this year, similar to the overall increase in crime in the city.  The department has not exactly figured out why hit and runs have increased, but we are being as aggressive as possible in trying to reduce the incidents,” Kowalski said.

When asked if the surge represented an epidemic in hit-and-run collisions, Kowalski said it was a big challenge, but “I don’t really have a set reason or opinion as to why it is happening.”

“Every bureau has seen double digit increases — you’re talking anywhere from 10 to 18 percent, but South Bureau has seen the most — increasing 2,773 in 2014 to 3,425 in 2015, a 24 percent increase,” he added.

A graph shows the difference in hit-and-run accidents reported to the Los Angeles Police Department between 2014 and 2015.
A graph shows the difference in hit-and-run accidents reported to the Los Angeles Police Department between 2014 and 2015.

The hit-and-run fatality rate in the South Bureau grew as well — up 175 percent. In contrast, the rate declined in the Valley and West Bureaus by 33 and 50 percent, and stayed the same in the Central Bureau.

“We’re slowly trying to trim the numbers down in short increments and are seeing percentages change,” Kowalski said. “From June 28 to Aug. 22 we saw a 13 percent drop in hit-and-run crashes in the South Bureau.”

“Arnold’s hit-and-run case remains under investigation,” South Bureau Traffic Detective Kitti Yount said. “There are hundreds of investigations going on in the bureau — and not all are fatalities — but we’re always aggressive in cases involving vehicles vs. pedestrians because of the injuries and loss of life, the money and the damage done, and the people who suffer.”

South Bureau is responsible for investigating traffic collisions and traffic-related crimes in the area south of the Santa Monica Freeway to San Pedro and between Central and La Brea avenues. The communities of San Pedro and Harbor City are also served.

Major corridors in the bureau include Crenshaw, Normandie, Florence, Century, Broadway, Vermont and Western. Oftentimes, they feature lots of vehicle traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Slauson and Western avenues, in addition to Compton Avenue and Imperial Highway, La Brea Avenue and Roseland Street, and 190th Street and Vermont Avenue are considered the greatest risk intersections in the South Bureau.

LAPD has ramped up its efforts to drive down the number of hit-and-run crashes. Patrol officers conduct decoy operations. Senior lead officers and traffic coordinators reach out to the neighborhood councils and communities regarding traffic issues.

“We deploy every resource we have — especially the patrol division — and pedestrian safety task forces,” Kowalski said. “We issue warning citations instead of tickets, use social media to help educate and train the public on pedestrian and bicycle safety, partner with the Council District offices and bring in additional resource from other bureaus. I’ve attended clergy council meetings to provide info and learn about the traffic issues they face. These strategies are very effective and are force multipliers.”

As a part of working with the clergy, Lt. Robert Rivers said the department is pursuing a specific grassroots strategy to cultivate relationships with ministers at churches located in the West Adams Boulevard corridor.

“That will help spread the word and help us to reach out and educate the community,” he said.

In the meantime, Holt frequently checks with Officer Yount for progress in capturing the person or persons responsible for her daughter’s death and returns to the crime scene searching for clues.

“There’s no way to describe the pain that I am and countless others are going through,” Holt said.

To report information on hit-and-run collisions, contact Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers, 500 E. Temple St. Room 110, Los Angeles, 90012, phone (800) 222-8477.

To send cell phone text tips, text the word “LAPD” and a message to CRIMES (274637).

To send web tips, log onto www.lapdonline.org and click on “anonymous web tips.”