Most hit and run accidents in Salt Lake City will not be investigated by police
SALT LAKE CITY, UT —
(KUTV) Dan Spencer's loves his 2015 Dodge Challenger.
"It is my baby," he says.
But somebody treated his baby badly, slamming into it while it was parked outside a Salt Lake City store.
The damage will cost $3500 to repair. It was a hit and run, but the good news is that Spencer has a witness and a lead.
The car that hit him left its headlight frame behind, complete with a serial number that clearly identifies the other car's make and model.
But when Spencer called the Salt Lake City police department to report the crime, he says officers refused to come out to the scene.
“Unless there was an injury or death, there would be no investigation done," Spencer says he was told.
Feeling as though justice wasn’t investigated, let alone done, Spencer decided it was time to Get Gephardt to investigate.
Detective Greg Wilking with the SLCPD says that if a hit and run results in injuries, the department will investigate. But he confirmed that if it's only property damage, they usually do not.
"We file a report and we move on," he said. “A lot of it is a matter of resources and there's a lot of reasons why resources are stretched thin.”
Det. Wilking says it's also a question of time.
“How much time can really be given to these cases?" he said.
But Det. Wilking also points the finger at the Utah State Legislature which, two years ago passed the criminal justice programs and amendments. The 257-page bill lessoned the punishment for dozens of crimes, including the hit and run law. The offense was lowered from a ‘class B misdemeanor’ to a ‘class C misdemeanor.’
"That is a problem for us in terms of saying, ‘Okay, how do we investigate a ‘class C,’ spending at the very least four to five hours on a case, upwards of 30 hours on a case, to investigate one hit and run?" Det. Wiling said.
Det. Wilking says the SLCPD would support a law change that made hit and runs a ‘class B misdemeanor’ again – or even a ‘class A’ which carry the stiffest misdemeanor penalties. Det. Wilkin says that knowing it can come with serious jail time may be enough to deter someone from fleeing a scene after a crash.
Marshall Thompson is the director of the Utah Sentencing Commission which recommended making hit and runs a ‘class C.’ He points out that a ‘class C’ still carries a potential sentence of up to three months behind bars.
"You can't blow off a ‘class C’ misdemeanor. It's very serious,” he says. "Some people might think that a ‘class C misdemeanor’ is no big deal because they deal with felonies and more serious crimes,” Thompson said. “The average Utahn, if they got the maximum penalty on a ‘class C misdemeanor,’ would find the result absolutely devastating on their lives. We have to be careful with this stuff."
Thompson says it's still on police to enforce the laws passed by the legislature.
As for Spencer, the SLCPD did end up doing some investigating. While they won't be seeking any sort of criminal charges, they think they know who hit him and were able to get that other driver's insurance information so Spencer can file a claim.
There are more than 4,000 hit and run cases each year in Utah, according to state records. That's one hit and run every two hours on average.