The car was supposed to turn but instead drifted farther and farther into Terri Lucas' lane until finally it swiped her on the exit ramp from Interstate 40 to Meridian Avenue. Lucas stopped. So did the other driver. Lucas looked at her car; the white paint of her new Chevrolet Cobalt was stripped to the primer. She expected to exchange insurance information, but the woman who hit her claimed there was no damage, Lucas said. And then she drove off. Lucas wrote down the tag number. She was lucky, she said. Her hit-and-run accident was one of about two dozen that occur every day in Oklahoma, according to 2006 numbers kept by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. One in eight wrecks reported across Oklahoma that year were hit-and-run. In Oklahoma City in 2007, about a quarter of the 11,399 accidents reported were hit-and-run, according to police numbers. Lucas' quick thinking helped land her in the 30 percent of hit-and-run accidents that are cleared by Oklahoma City police. Clearance in police terms means they have completed the investigation and identified a suspect, not that a conviction has been handed down. Oklahoma drivers can purchase uninsured motorist insurance, but that will not cover hit-and-run accidents, said Karen Beard, an agent with State Farm Insurance. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a hit-and-run is considered the same as a non-insured driver accident in many states, and damage caused by a hit-and-run is covered and no deductible has to be paid. Not every state has uninsured driver insurance. A victim has to pay the deductible if repairs are made using uninsured motorist insurance in Oklahoma. Lucas refused to use her insurance and her car has not been fixed. She said she is going to let the courts settle it and, hopefully, the suspect will pay for the damage. Lucas does not want her premium to go up because someone else hit her, she said. "It really infuriates people. They say ‘I didn't have anything to do with the accident so why do I have to pay my deductible?'” Beard said. If a victim can identify who it was that hit their car, they can go after the culprit in civil court or have the police go after them. Often an insurance agency will go after a hit-and-run driver to recoup the deductible for their client, Beard said. In Lucas' case, police had her come down to the station and pick the suspect out of a lineup. She picked the woman she said was the driver, and police confirmed the woman as the owner of the car. Henrietta Nwosu was then arrested on complaints of leaving the scene of an accident, failure to show insurance and straddling the center divider. Her case is pending. "I got lucky. I really did. Police said it's good that I remembered her face,” Lucas said.Comments
Many hit-and-runs are ‘not workable'The truth is, a hit-and-and run accident in all likelihood will go unsolved, said Lt. Nancy Rateliff, who heads up Oklahoma City's traffic division. "There are a lot of them we can't do much with. There are a lot of them that we call ‘not workable,'” she said. Each of the three investigators in the traffic unit that works hit-and-runs have about 80 cases a month, Rateliff said. That may seem like a lot, but there is a solvability factor, said Capt. Steve McCool. Some cases will be given a low priority because of little information that may lead to an arrest. "You can't take a vehicle to trial. You have to take the person,” he said. If the victim cannot identify the person who was behind the wheel, there is virtually no way to convict that person based on the damages alone, McCool said. Supposing that the owner of the suspect vehicle is the guilty party does not stand up in court. Investigators often have to rely on confessions, Rateliff said. Most leave the scene of an accident because they don't have a license, don't have insurance, have a warrant for their arrest or were under the influence, Rateliff said. Some just get scared. Feeling guilty, some end up calling police later, Rateliff said. They may face lesser charges for confessing. Noninjury hit-and-run accidents, if solved, are handled by the municipal court in Oklahoma City. Injury accidents and fatalities are filed in district court.
City has higher rates than rest of stateInsurance Information Institute statistics show that in the South — which includes Oklahoma — three times as many hit-and-run accidents were reported between 2003 and 2006 than in the Northeast and twice as many as the West. Oklahoma City reported a much higher rate of such accidents in 2007 than the rest of the state, about one in four. McCool said it is nearly impossible to speculate as to why there are more in Oklahoma City. Beard would not speculate either, but did say Oklahoma has a higher rate of uninsured drivers than most states.
By the numbers
2006 numbers •75,408: Total crashes •9,068: Hit-and-runs •16: People killed in hit-and-runs
City wrecks2007 numbers •11,399: Total crashes •2,955: Hit-and-runs •5: Fatality hit-and-runs Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, Oklahoma City Police Department
Nationwide accidents2003 to 2006 numbers •5.9 million: Nonfatal crashes •1.1 million: Hit-and-runs in South •366,000: Hit-and-runs in Northeast •650,000: Hit-and-runs in the West •835,000: Hit-and-runs in the Midwest Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration