Crimewatch: APD forms unit to handle increasing hit-and-run inci - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: APD forms unit to handle increasing hit-and-run incidents

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It's a crime that has gotten so bad, that the Austin Police Department now has its own unit to handle it.

Detectives get hundreds of leaving the scene cases a month...about 800. They say it affects all of us because it's not a victimless crime, everyone's insurance goes up.

Austin police are seeing so many leaving the scene accidents that they formed a new unit to handle them. The Leaving the Scene Unit consists of four detectives, transferred from the Vehicular Homicide Unit, formed a few months ago.

APD detective, Richard Harrington, is one of them.

"It's getting worse year after year after year," Harrington said.

He says it's hard to investigate these cases.

"Unless we can get a witness or a camera, something that caught that crash and that particular person behind the wheel, it's a very hard crime to prove," Harrington said.

Leaving the scene is a Class C misdemeanor if the damage is less than $200 to the car. Any amount over $200 is a Class B misdemeanor.

In March, police say Hipolito Rebollar drove his car into a South Austin dealership. Eighteen cars were smashed, nine were torn apart. Police say it caused $270,000 worth of damage.

If drivers leave the scene of an accident and there are injuries, then the crime becomes failure to stop and render aid.

Gabrielle Nestande is perhaps the most recent high profile case. While the former legislative aide was charged with failure to stop and render aid, she was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. She fatally ran over Courtney Griffin on Exposition Blvd., in May of 2011.

The jury, however, gave her a 10 year probation. The sentence outraged some in the community and the judge who presided over the criminal case. State District Judge, Karen Sage, subsequently added a maximum six months in a state jail as part of that probation.

The case helped pass legislation to increase the penalty for failure to stop and render aid from a third degree felony up to a second degree felony. Such legislation is a good sign for police who say right now, punishment for leaving the scene of an accident is nothing.

"The punishment for this is a fine or a slap on the wrist," Harrington said.

Detective Harrington also says out of the 800 cases a month, only about 30 percent of those are closed. Meaning 30 percent of them end with resolution and the victims getting financially compensated, which doesn't really surprise Austinite Philip Roy. 

"I think that's crazy so many people don't report that, so many people are dishonest about it, I think it will come back to bite them in the end," Roy said.

In a city where leaving the scenes are steadily rising, Roy also says he's glad he doesn't have a brand new car.

Police say if you hit an unattended vehicle, you're supposed to leave a note with your name, address, and circumstances of the collision.

Police also say we should all care because insurance companies pass along the cost to consumers when insurance rates go up.

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