State Assemblyman Mike Gatto could barely contain his excitement upon learning that Gov. Jerry Brown had signed a bill to to create a public alert system aimed at tracking down hit-and-run drivers.
“We’re just ecstatic,” Assemblyman Mike Gatto said after receiving notification of the governor’s decision from his staff
AB 8 will provide “yellow alerts” showing details about a fleeing vehicle — such as color, make, model and license plate number — to be displayed on digital freeway and street signs. Such alerts are already used during kidnappings.
It will help help law enforcement official identify and better track drivers who flee the scene of an accident
“This will make our streets much more safe, will help a lot of grieving families get justice,” Gatto said.
Numerous hit-and run incidents, after a time, can be forgotten by the public as time goes on but it’s an open wound for family members and their close friends who feel that there is no closure or justice when a case is cold and is no longer pursued.
Sylmar Hit-And-Run Still Unsolved
“We haven’t forgotten our friend Joe Wichmann,” said Sylmar resident Virginia Gutierrez.
Wichmann, 32, was killed in 2007 while crossing Glenoaks Boulevard near his house at Monte Street. The driver of a blue Chevrolet Tahoe, with the license plate number of 5ROW149, did not stop and abandoned the car two blocks away.
The Tahoe hit him with such force that Wichmann was found 90 feet away from the location where he was hit and he died at the scene.
A reward was announced for anyone who could come forward with information that could lead to an arrest of a suspect. “But eight years later we still don’t know who hit him. How heartless; how could anyone just drive off?” Gutierrez asked.
Wichmann was well known in the Northeast Valley as a person who enjoyed his friends and, more than anything, wanted to have an opportunity to demonstrate his talent and be a successful screenwriter and actor.
His friends and family are hoping that somehow, someway, the driver who killed him, can still be caught.
“It’s just not right, we want our friend to at least be given justice,” Gutierrez said.
Fleeing Driver Kills
Gatto held a news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall Monday, Sept. 28, to urge Brown to “do the right thing” and sign the bill, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 1.
Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, explaining to Gatto that he had concerns it would overburden the existing alert system. The governor had until Oct. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the latest bill.
“I don’t think the system is too burdened,” Gatto said, noting that freeway signs are being used to urge drivers statewide to conserve water amid an historic drought.
“We shouldn’t have to put up $50,000 rewards to try to catch somebody. We shouldn’t have to flier our neighborhoods,” Gatto said. “We should give law enforcement tools to try to catch somebody by crowdsourcing it, if you will.”
Gatto added his bill is “narrowly tailored” to ensure alerts are only sent out in areas near where the incidents occur and only if the collision resulted in serious injury or death. Unlike Amber alerts, they will only be displayed on billboards and not on smart phones.
At the press conference, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler said 150 people die each year due to hit-and-runs.
Butler noted a recent fatal hit-and-run that occurred on Sept.18 at approximately 9:45 p.m. on busy Figueroa Street in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles. Butler said she was eating dinner with friends nearby when she heard a crash, then saw a driver flee the scene.
The victim, Yolanda Lugo, 51, died two days later. Lugo was described as a hard worker who was employed at a nearby guest home for 20 years.
“We are still looking for the perpetrator of this crime,” Butler said. She pointed out that those who ride bikes, or are pedestrians, are vulnerable and the streets also belong to them, not just motorists. Residents, including members of the bicycle coalition, have been concerned about cars speeding and have asked for a bike lane on that street but so far have been unsuccessful.
The driver of the car, which is described as a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer, did not stop after hitting Lugo but was seen eventually pulling over but to remove his license plate before continuing to drive away. Lugo was walking in a well marked crosswalk when she was struck so hard that her body flew a distance away.
Driver Didn’t Break For Victim
Witnesses to the hit-and-run told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that the car was traveling at a high speed for several blocks and didn’t even brake after hitting Lugo.
“There are no skid marks in the street and he just kept going,” said a local resident.
A security guard that works for a nearby store moved his car to block traffic until police and an ambulance could arrive. Lugo sustained severe head injuries.
“She only had her daughter and no other family members living here,” said a friend who gathered with others to set up a candlelight memorial. They wrote her name on the sidewalk.
“We just really want them to catch the person who did this.”
Friends of Lugo said they wanted their local legislators to pay more attention to this issue, and want to organize a march to honor their friend and call more attention to this problem.
“The person that did this is probably long gone, but that doesn’t mean that he or she shouldn’t be pursued so that people that do this know that they can’t just go into hiding and resume their life. You took our friends life and didn’t even bother to stop to see if you could help her,” one the friends said.
City News Service contributed to this report.