Crime

Hit-and-run crashes jump. Here’s what to do if it happens to you

Kennewick video shows fitness trainer leaving scene after fatal moped crash

Katie Summers, 28, faces charges of vehicular homicide and hit-and-run after killing Leonel Birrueta, 31, in Kennewick. Traffic camera footage shows her hitting Birrueta, staying near the scene for several minutes, then driving away.
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Katie Summers, 28, faces charges of vehicular homicide and hit-and-run after killing Leonel Birrueta, 31, in Kennewick. Traffic camera footage shows her hitting Birrueta, staying near the scene for several minutes, then driving away.

A Pasco mother. A Kennewick motorcyclist. A Kamiakin High School student.

They’re just three of the people hurt in a weeks-long rash of hit-and-runs in the Tri-Cities, and they aren’t likely to be the last.

Hit-and-run crashes are up across all the Tri-Cities, including a 41 percent jump in Richland.

Kennewick police are waiting for state crime lab results after they seized a pickup on the 7200 block of West Eighth Court on Sept. 11.

The vehicle may be connected to a Sept. 5 hit-and-run that left Kyle Marboe, 17, a Kaimakin High School student, recovering at Harborview Medical Center.

Days after the pickup was found, two more people were hurt in hit-and-runs. On Sept 15, a woman shoved her daughter out of the way of a turning Cadillac Escalade as they were walking across 20th Avenue. The woman was hurt as the driver sped off.

Then on Sept. 16, a red pickup slammed into a motorcycle as it crossed Canal Drive at Edison Street in Kennewick. The pickup’s driver stopped for a second before driving away.

All of these followed a late August crash where Katie L. Summers, 28, is accused of driving away after killing Leonel Z. Birrueta at the intersection of Clearwater Avenue and Edison Street.

These are only the most dramatic crashes in Pasco, Richland and Kennewick this year.

Most were just crashes that left behind dented cars, busted fences or damaged light poles — and were also a hit to bank accounts.

KPD hit run investigation
Kennewick police officers Ron Salter, Lee Cooper and Brian Banner, from left, scour the roadway for clues on Sept. 7 from the previous night’s hit-and-run collision that critically injured a Kamiakin High School student. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

How bad is it?

All three cities had more hit-and-runs by the middle of September than from the same time in 2017.

Richland had the biggest increase with 39 more reports, a 41 percent jump from the previous year to 133.

Kennewick is up 12 incidents to 350, with much of it’s total attributed to the city’s busy shopping areas.

Pasco officers responded to 15 more hit-and-run incidents, 85 for the year.

Pasco Officer Jeff Cobb works with the city’s traffic unit. He attributed some of the jump to simply having more drivers on the road.

The Mid-Columbia population grew by 6,500 last year and is closing fast on 300,000.

The increase of hit-and-run incidents might also be part of a trend across the country, according to AAA. The organization’s foundation for traffic safety released a report earlier this year saying fatal hit-and-run crashes reached an all-time high in 2016.

“Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge,” said David Yang, the executive director of the foundation.

Drivers are legally required to stop if they hit someone, but Cobb said there’s reasons they might drive away.

“People are scared and they don’t know what to do,” Cobb said. “It could be that you’re a suspended driver or you have warrants .... or there is some other reason that they don’t want law enforcement contact.”

Pasco fluid
Pasco police officers followed the large trail of fluid that was left in the road following a hit-and-run. Pasco Police Department

Here’s what you can do

Officers tell people to be good witnesses if they’re hit. Get all the information you can without risking yourself.

Kennewick police Sgt. Aaron Clem said these things help police:

  • Make, model and color of the other car.
  • Unique things like decals, crash damage, stripes, so on.

  • Which way it fled the scene.

  • As much of the license plate as you can get.

“We don’t want people to chase hit-and-run suspects around,” Clem said. “That causes undue risk for everyone involved.”

Police across the Tri-Cities said a little bit of caution can be the best defense.

Don’t rush, and be aware of your surroundings. Give yourself time to get where you’re going, and be aware of what other drivers are doing.

“People need to slow down,” Cobb said. “Don’t just check your mirror. Check your blind spot.”

The most serious crashes happen at night, police told the Herald, and they tend to involve a car hitting a person walking or bicycling.

AAA said pedestrians, especially children, may act unpredictably. Drivers should be extra careful around playgrounds, bus stops and intersections where kids tend to be.

Drivers also should give people plenty of room when passing them on the street, AAA said.

Above all, though, drivers have a moral duty to stick around after the crash — and penalties increase if you drive away.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402; Twitter: @cameroncprobert
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