More than one hit-and-run crash occurs every minute on U.S. roads, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Here in Great Bend, two of these crashes over the past year have resulted in fatalities.
Rose Younger, 90, of Great Bend, was hit by a vehicle around 6:45 p.m. on Feb. 3 after she had left the Parish Center and was walking home. She later died due to injuries from the accident.
“The Younger case is still under investigation,” Lt. Jason Settle of the Great Bend Police Department said. “When we get leads we follow up on them right away.”
James Zager, 65, of Garden City, Mo., died as the result of a hit-and-run crash that occurred around 7:20 p.m. on Nov. 29, 2017, as he was crossing 10th St. After a light-colored pickup struck Zager, it continued west on 10th Street out of town.
That case also went unsolved for a time, but on March 1, Rodney Campbell Jr., 58, was arrested for the hit-and-run. The Texas Rangers placed Campbell under arrest in rural Anderson County, Texas.
These are just the latest of hit-and-run cases in Barton County where pedestrians were injured or killed. A case that has remained unsolved for more than a decade is that of Eric Reeves, who died on June 5, 2005. He was walking along U.S. 56 toward Great Bend after leaving a party near the diversion dam and was hit by a truck. Evidence at the scene indicates he was hit by a 1995 or newer Peterbilt semitrailer.
There are also many hit-and-run cases that involve property damage.
“The city has more hit-and-runs than we do in the county just for the simple fact that there are more parking lots, pedestrians and busier streets. Some of these accidents go unreported,” Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said. “In the county we see signs and mailboxes knocked over and not reported. These are caused by heavy equipment making turns on to dirt roads getting to fields.”
If people have any information about any hit-and runs or other crimes, they are asked to call Crime Stoppers at 620-792-1300.
A growing problem
With the number of hit-and-run crashes on the rise, AAA Kansas is calling for drivers to be alert on the road in order to avoid a deadly crash and always remain on the scene if a crash occurs.
AAA researchers examined common characteristics of hit-and-run crashes and found that:
• An average of 682,000 hit-and-run crashes occurred nationwide each year since 2006.
• Nearly 65 percent of people killed in hit-and-run crashes were pedestrians or bicyclists.
• Hit-and-run deaths in the U.S. have increased an average of 7.2 percent each year since 2009.
• Per capita, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida have the highest rate of fatal hit-and-run crashes while New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota have the lowest rates.
“Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Dr. David Yang said. “Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge, and the AAA Foundation would like to work with all stakeholders to help curtail this problem.”
The report found that most victims of fatal hit-and-run crashes are pedestrians or bicyclists. Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were caused by hit-and-run crashes, compared to just one percent of all driver fatalities in that same time period.
According to Kansas Department of Transportation 2016 vehicle crash statistics, there were 365 crashes in the state that involved pedestrians being struck, resulting in 23 fatalities and 355 injuries. In 2016, 324 crashes involved collisions with a bicycle, with three deaths and 316 injuries occurring.
To decrease the chances of being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or bicyclist, drivers should:
• Be aware: Pedestrians may act unpredictably and can walk into the path of travel at any point.
• Be cautious: Look out for small children and be alert to areas where there are likely to be more pedestrians. These include school zones, playgrounds, bus stops and intersections.
• Be patient: When trying to pass a pedestrian or cyclist, give plenty of space and keep them in your line of sight.
• Be vigilant: Drivers should always yield to pedestrians, even if they walk into the road from an area other than a crosswalk.
“It is every driver’s legal and moral responsibility to take necessary precautions to avoid hitting a pedestrian, bicyclist or another vehicle,” Shawn Steward AAA Kansas spokesman said. “While no one likes being involved in a crash, leaving the scene will significantly increase the penalties for drivers, whether they caused the crash or not.”
Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for a driver involved in a crash to flee the scene. State penalties vary depending on the type of crash (i.e. property damage, injury, serious injury or a fatality). If found guilty, drivers can face large fines, lose their license or spend time in prison. AAA encourages drivers to educate themselves about specific hit-and-run laws in their state and remain alert on the road to prevent crashes from occurring.