I Was Run Over in Chicago. The Driver Fled. Here’s What Happened Afterward.

Car crash. aaandreasss https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

On the evening of February 10, at around 9 PM, I was walking home from my nightly swim at a pool in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. I used to love that walk, which winds through a beautiful old residential area dense with trees, stately old houses, and apartment buildings. After the events of that night, though, it’s now a much more apprehensive journey.

Nearly home, I stepped into the crosswalk at Wrightwood and Kimball. I had the walk sign and made sure to check for any vehicles ignoring the traffic signal, a common problem in the area. Nonetheless, a car turning left off of Kimball plowed into me. The car had been sitting in the intersection and, presumably, the driver didn’t bother to check for pedestrians. I rolled off of the hood and smashed into the ground.

As I slowly peeled myself off of the pavement, blood sluicing down my face, I saw the taillights of the vehicle receding into the distance. Several horrified onlookers rushed to my aid and helped me to sit up. I sat on the cold asphalt, dazed and furious, as they ministered to me with wads of paper towels and called 911. Two of the gentlemen who stopped tried to help me stand, but my knees, which took the brunt of the impact, buckled. I settled back onto the street, attempting to staunch the bleeding and text my friends, as my relatives were all out of town.

Fifteen minutes later, paramedics and the police were nowhere to be seen. One of my helpers redialed 911, only to be snapped at by the operator, who then hung up. (In at least some cases, this has been a fireable offense.) Perhaps five minutes later, the ambulance showed up and I was loaded into the back to await the arrival of police. (I later learned that the 14th District has the fewest officers of any district in the city.) When they showed up another five minutes later, they took my statement and assured me that I would be contacted by Chicago’s Major Accidents Unit with updates on the investigation.

I was then transported to St. Mary’s Hospital, where two of my friends met me. They were invaluable advocates. (Try getting the attention of a medical professional when you’re flat on your back and doped up on morphine.) I was admitted and treated for abrasions to my face and legs and a cut to my lip, which required stitches. The doctor, comfortingly, tittered that I could “go to a plastic surgeon” if I wasn’t happy with her stitching job. I was expected to treat the abrasions on my limbs myself, despite the fact that sitting up was painful. CT scans and X-rays revealed that I also had a broken nose and cheekbone. Luckily, I had no broken bones in my limbs, but my knees were badly bruised, and my right hand was sprained. All in all, I was very lucky in the medical sense, at least. My hand is not yet 100% recovered and I have not entirely regained my sense of smell. No brain injury, no internal bleeding though. Nonetheless, I now have some $4,000 in medical bills to pay after insurance and no one to hold accountable.

I waited several days for a phone call from the Major Accidents Unit. Finally, tired of sitting on my hands, I contacted them only to find that the paperwork had not even arrived. It took a further call to the 14th District office (which responded to the accident) to set that transmittal into motion. I later learned that the original police report would be mailed. Not scanned and emailed, not faxed, mailed. In 2017.

I was told by the second officer I spoke to at the Major Accidents Unit that it was unlikely that the paperwork would reach the office in time to secure camera footage from nearby buildings. He was probably the most needlessly rude and aggressive person I’ve talked to in some time, hardly the type one wants to speak to when dealing with a crisis. When I pointed out that this nearly ensured that the culprit would never be found, he back-peddled quickly, saying that there was still a chance that footage could be found.

Unfortunately, there were no traffic cameras at the intersection where my accident occurred, nor at any nearby intersections. I called the establishments surrounding the intersection — a church, a performance space, and an apartment building — myself to see if they had CCTV footage. The apartment building, the only one with a security camera system, had already wiped the footage five days later. Had the owners been contacted by police within a reasonable timeframe, there’s a good chance that footage of the accident could have been preserved. Per police protocol, in any case where the victim is hospitalized, as I was, the Major Accidents Unit is to be notified immediately. I made the mistake of assuming that the police would treat this case with due diligence and secure that footage without prompting. I was wrong. They did not notify the Major Accidents Unit and no footage was secured.

Frustrated by the bureaucratic inertia of the Chicago Police — who, it must be acknowledged, are also dealing with even-more serious crimes — I began contacting government officials in an effort to spur the investigation along. Of the eight government offices I contacted, only two were of any meaningful assistance. Alderman Scott Waguespack, of the 32nd Ward, where I live, responded within a day. He and his staff were incredibly kind and helpful. They were the ones who determined that the police report was being mailed to the Major Accidents Unit. Similarly, State Representative Will Guzzardi’s office reached out within a day. I spoke with one of his staffers and with Guzzardi himself; both were gracious and concerned. Waguespack’s and Guzzardi’s offices both called the police on my behalf and made sure that they understood both my concerns about the lack of action on my case and the traffic issues besetting the neighborhood.

I constantly see reckless driving in the residential area bounded by Fullerton, Diversey, Kedzie, and Pulaski. Drivers speed, blow stop signs and lights, and generally appear oblivious to their surroundings. This, in an area full of seniors and families with children. I almost never see police cruisers back there and irresponsible drivers fully avail themselves of the lack of police presence. Even as I write this article, largely recovered nearly a year after my accident, I still find myself avoiding speeding drivers who don’t obey traffic laws in the area on a daily basis. A young woman, stopped at a stop sign, nearly ran me over just the other night because she wasn’t looking when she accelerated.

I also contacted Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, of the 35th Ward, where the accident occurred. After several failed attempts to reach him, I resorted to Twitter, where I posted a GIF of Prince giving some serious side-eye with the caption “When the #alderman in whose ward your accident occurred can’t be bothered to respond…” and tagged Ramirez-Rosa. Three days later, I received an apologetic message assuring me that the issue would be taken seriously. His staff explained that some other residents of the ward had also expressed concern about the traffic issues plaguing the area. While they chose to single out the intersection where my accident happened — claiming that only one pedestrian accident had occurred there in the past six years — some 81 pedestrian crashes and 74 bike accidents actually occurred in the surrounding neighborhood between 2009 and 2014, per research done by John Greenfield of the Chicago Reader and Streetsblog. The choice by Ramirez-Rosa’s office to focus on that single intersection strikes me as an enormously disingenuous way of feinting on a much more pervasive issue.

Unsurprisingly, a number of government officials failed to respond entirely. While even the undoubtedly busy office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was able to reply with a brief note referring my concerns to the office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s office itself remained silent despite repeated messages. So, too, the office of Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., chairman of Chicago’s Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, ignored my message. If any two politicians ought to have given this some attention, it would be those two gentlemen.

Emanuel presides over a city beleaguered by crime, budgetary issues, and a precipitous exodus of residents, to be sure. While it’s hardly realistic to expect every issue raised by his constituents to be solved, I’m left wondering what sort of issues the mayor’s office does deign to address. If Madigan’s office, which is responsible for an entire state, can take the time to reply with useful information, I find it difficult to believe that Emanuel’s office couldn’t do the same. So, too, it beggars belief that chairman of the committee responsible for dealing with such issues disregarded my request for assistance. I did not contact them about a minor problem. This is a felony crime, the police mishandling of which ensured that the culprit will never be found. States like Colorado have instituted alert systems (similar to Amber Alerts) that quickly disseminate relevant information about hit-and-run incidents; no such system is in evidence in Chicago’s Vision Zero plan, which aims — overweeningly, in my view — to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2026.

The response (or rather, lack thereof) from the local press was equally disillusioning. None of the regional television outlets chose to carry the story. One channel, WGN Channel 9, responded to my inquiry, but failed to follow up. That rebuke was particularly stinging because I went to high school with the station’s traffic reporter, who also declined to respond when I reached out to her via social media. In this day and age, it’s likely that an intern or assistant was monitoring her accounts. However, the fact that even an entreaty to a member of the media with whom I was acquainted was fruitless served as a damning bellwether of what I could expect from the rest of Chicago’s media establishment. From the eminent Chicago Tribune on down to HuffPo’s Chicago arm, I was met with a wall of silence. Luckily, DNAInfo picked up the story, as did the Chicago Reader (and, by way of syndication, Streetsblog).

As infuriating as it is, I realize that my accident represents one tiny data point in a distressing statistical uptick in pedestrian crashes. Fatalities both in Chicago and nationwide have increased alarmingly in recent years. Last year, 44 people died as a result of pedestrian crashes in the Windy City, 26% more than were killed two years prior. In 2015, fatalities rose nationally some 10% from 2014. Last year they crept another 11% higher. The Illinois Department of Transportation just released its Chicago city report for 2015 in April. It lists 2,855 pedestrian crashes that year, up from 2,707 in 2013 and 2,556 in 2014. In Chicago, the trend is especially disturbing due to the proportion of hit-and-run drivers. Between 2005 and 2014, 40% of drivers involved in fatal crashes fled the scene.

If that doesn’t indicate a crisis, I don’t know what does. As previously acknowledged, the Chicago Police are responsible for investigating an ever-increasing array of violent crime. However, despite frightening statistics, the city wasn’t even in the top 20 cities in the U.S. as far as the murder rate went for 2016. While of course police resources must be allocated to other serious crimes, the fact that a felony crime such as the one I was a victim of is essentially relegated to de facto non-investigation is shameful. With close to 1,000 new cops on the streets of Chicago, one is left wondering how not investigating a felony is permissible on any level.

If Chicago (and the state of Illinois) want to serve their constituents, a major change is in order. The system utterly failed me — and, no doubt, the victims of other violent crimes. If fatalities and crippling injuries are the only issues that warrant police attention, we have a real problem. With some 38,000 residents of the state of Illinois having left in 2016, largely due to the fallout from its budget crisis, one might almost think that constituent services would be a priority for government officials in charge of allocating these resources. That does not appear to be the case.

The sad fact is, in Chicago, the third largest metropolis in the U.S, you’re often on your own if you’re the victim of a violent incident. Chicago’s policing failures have become an international embarrassment due to high-profile police brutality and gang violence. These sensational incidents, however, overshadow a deeper crisis…one in which victims of lesser crime are left to fend for themselves. That’s just unacceptable.

Some tips…

  • If you are a frequent pedestrian or cyclist, keep the number of a good personal injury lawyer on hand. You, a friend, or relative will want to contact them ASAP; the day the accident occurs if possible. The lawyer can contact local building owners on your behalf and obtain any security footage that might be available. This needs to be done immediately, as many CCTV systems record over earlier footage rather quickly. Freeman Kevenides (whose services I retained) and Keating Law Offices are two excellent options in Chicago.
  • Be sure to obtain contact information from witnesses.
  • Take detailed photos of your injuries and damaged property.
  • Establish a timeline with the police if possible. When will they reach out to you? What further steps need to be taken?
  • Contact your local government officials. Even if the police are responsive and the culprit is caught, it’s good for them to have these issues on their radar. Problem areas can be identified and traffic calming measures can be introduced.
  • Talk to journalists. It may seem like a losing battle given the tendency of most news outlets in major cities to ignore non-sensational local news. After reaching out to around 12 news outlets, though, I was able to get my story picked up by both DNAInfo and the Chicago Reader. Those stories can be seen here and here.
  • Get your story out on social media. Whether or not your story is picked up by a media outlet, social media can be an invaluable resource in terms of raising awareness about the factors that contributed to your accident and can also be helpful in holding apathetic government officials accountable.

Government officials who were helpful and responsive…

Alderman Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward

Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa of the 35th Ward (after repeated prompting)

State Representative Will Guzzardi of the 39th District

The office of Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General

Government officials and entities who were not helpful…

Chicago Police Department

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth

Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., chairman of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety

Journalists who were helpful…

John Greenfield of the Chicago Reader and Streetsblog

Mina Bloom of DNAInfo

News outlets that declined to cover the story…

CBS Chicago (Channel 2)

NBC Chicago (Channel 5)

ABC Chicago (Channel 7)

WGN Chicago (Channel 9; I reached out to both their news division and their traffic division, as I attended high school with their traffic reporter. After a few tepid questions, they simply abandoned the exchange.)

Chicago Tribune

Chicago Sun Times

Red Eye Chicago

Huffington Post Chicago

Hoy

La Raza

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