"If you see something, say something." That statement, that plea, that demand is often part of a public appeal to help solve shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, rapes or other major crimes. It has other applications as well. In this case, a hit-skip crash that has left a Uniontown man wondering about his future in construction.
It happened September 9 in a highway construction zone in the northbound lanes of I-77 near the Vernon Odom Boulevard exit.
"I just remember hearing tires squeal and I knew what it was," said Danny Atkinson. "I knew somebody cut in the zone between the drums and I tried to run toward the zone trailer. I got about one step and that was it."
The next thing he remembers was being on the ground seeing the vehicle that hit him. The woman driving the tan SUV stopped and yelled out the window that she couldn't believe what she had done, then ignored a demand from one of Atkinson's co-workers from Shelly & Sands Construction to stay in her vehicle - and stay put. It's that last part that didn't stick. The woman took off as Atkinson was well aware that his foot was facing the wrong direction. Only one broken bone, but severe damage to ligaments and tendons in his left ankle. Remarkable? Sure. It could have been far worse, but for a construction worker, the full use of all limbs is critical. Right now, the prognosis on that ankle is undetermined.
What is also undetermined is whether the driver will face charges. She's still on the loose, which is one facet of Atkinson's frustration.
"I just couldn't believe it because at that time she didn't know if I was dead or alive or not," said Atkinson. "She just ran me over. I just don't know how one person could do that to another. I'd feel bad enough if I just had hit a dog on the side of the road. I couldn't just driver off."
It was also frustrating to Atkinson and his family that the accident didn't get more attention, so the hit-skip driver could be caught. The video posted here was forwarded by the Akron Police Department about two weeks after the accident. Atkinson's sister, Pamela Scofield, contacted media and later took still shots from the video to the gas station that provided the surveillance video, asking people to help identify her.
In charge of the investigation: APD's hit-skip division. Detective Debbie Stalnaker is in charge. In fact, she's the only person assigned to work the city's 130-170 hit-skip complaints every month. She can borrow help from the traffic division, but that division is "depleted tremendously." There used to be more help, but the budget constraints that started a few years ago forced the city to not replace some officers who retired or quit.
Stalnaker's one-person office has a solve rate of about 30%. She says a license plate number is often the key to finding a hit-skip driver. In that case, Stalnaker sends them a letter, asking them to stop by for an interview. Those who don't respond typically get a visit from her. Of course, that means that there is nobody in the hit-skip office, so attention to the next case is delayed.
Releasing the video on YouTube helped. It received nearly 5,000 hits in fewer than 24 hours, a number that increased to about 12,000 as of this morning. Stalnaker says it also generated some phone calls, but she can't disclose how helpful those possible tips may have been.
"I don't use social media very often because of the nature of the incidents," said Stalnaker, says it is helpful "to a certain extent."
Stalnaker is quick to remind that crimes aren't solved as easily and quickly as what we see on television crime/police dramas. She says the traffic reconstruction unit can be called for help, but wasn't initially involved in this case.