Metro Morning

How police are often able to solve the puzzle of hit-and-runs

Peel Regional Police want motorists to know they catch more than 90 per cent of drivers responsible for hit-and-run collisions that kill or injure pedestrians.

Leftover car parts, security cameras key in investigations

(Tony Smyth/CBC)

Peel Regional Police want motorists to know they catch more than 90 per cent of drivers responsible for hit-and-run collisions that kill or injure pedestrians.

Staff Sgt. Gary Carty, of Peel Regional Police's Major Collision Bureau, issued the warning after a spate of deadly collisions over the last month that have left three people dead.

On Wednesday, police arrested a 61-year-old man who was allegedly driving a dump truck when it struck and killed a 21-year-old pedestrian around Steeles Avenue and Kennedy Road, then fled the scene. The accused is set to appear in court in December.

Peel Regional Police say they catch more than 90 per cent of drivers responsible for hit-and-run collisions that kill or injure pedestrians, said Staff Sgt. Gary Carty, of Peel Regional Police’s Major Collision Bureau. 8:51

Catching a motorist who fled

Carty said police are often able to get some video of the incident, or the vehicles that leave a scene, either from roadway cameras or those mounted at homes or businesses. Forensics officers, meanwhile, can use the smallest fragment of a vehicle found on a victim's clothing to identify that vehicle.

"In today's society, we're covered by video 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week," he said. Transit, businesses and homes can all have security video, he pointed out. 

"We're looking for evidence that's microscopic in nature sometimes," he said. "We may find very small car parts, car parts may be embedded in the clothing of the victim, paint samples..."

Once that evidence is collected, the Centre For Forensic Science can narrow down the make and model of the car, which can be a starting point for police investigations. They alert auto-body shops and mechanics to be on the lookout for automobile owners looking for parts that might have been damaged in a hit-and-run.

Witnesses also tend to come forward after the cases hit the news, Carty said.

"People see things they don't know the importance of when they see them," he said. "It's not until they see it on the news that they say, 'Oh my gosh, I was at that intersection,' and they call us."

Two kinds of hit-and-runs

Carty said there are generally two classifications of hit-and-runs, or as police call them, fail-to-remains.

One is a parking lot fender bender. "Those are quite popular," the staff sergeant said. When police seek out drivers who hit other cars in parking lots, they lean heavily on security cameras.

Even still, they only catch 50 to 60 per cent of those drivers, Carty estimated. 

The second classification is personal injury and fatalities. Carty said the police are able to catch 90 per cent of those responsible.

Within this hit-and-run classification, there are types of drivers who fail to remain. 

A small group of people don't realize they've hit anything. Carty said if that's the case, there is less criminality involved.

Others panic, fear the consequences and leave.

Other times, people simply just leave because they don't take it seriously. "Quite often they don't think it's that bad, and they think they can get away," he said.

In many cases, the police are able to lay charges in hit-and-runs thanks to the driver's guilty conscience — they will turn themselves in a few days later, especially if there is a media report on the incident.

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