Solved But Unresolved: The Weird Case of the Serial Hit-and-Run Driver in Ontario, Seneca and Wayne Counties.

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My last blog post described how I got whacked by a hit-and-run driver and then chased him down.  You can read that blog post here.  Some of my readers commented that I was a stubborn fool for pursuing him at fairly high speeds on a snowy day.  I agree.  As it turns out, though, my stubbornness may have paid off and made the roads safer for my fellow motorists in Wayne, Seneca and Ontario Counties.  Read on to find out how!

As I explained in my prior post, I kept up my hot pursuit until the 911 operator asked me to cease it.  But by then I had at least gotten his license plate number and several pictures of his tan-colored Chevy pickup truck.  Seneca County law enforcement now knew who owned the vehicle, a Lyons NY resident.  Here’s one of the pictures I snapped of the offending vehicle while on the chase:

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After I posted my blog, several of my readers from the Geneva area tipped me off about Facebook postings they had seen describing a similar tan-colored pickup truck deliberately rear-ending folks. Could this be the same guy?

I sure as hell wanted to find out.

So I called the Seneca County Deputy Sheriff who was investigating my case. But to my dismay, he not only did he not know about the Geneva cases, he did not seem interested in them.  “Even if it was the same vehicle”, he said, “we can’t prove the driver is the same guy who struck you.  You never saw the driver”. He then informed me that he had attempted to interview the owner of the tan pickup truck that struck me, but the suspect was refusing to talk other than to deny he was in Seneca County at the time of my hit-and-run event.  Beyond that, he was exercising his right to remain silent.  The Deputy Sheriff had thus declined to press charges or even issue a ticket to the man since he “could not put him behind the wheel at the time of the accident and someone else could have been driving the pickup”.

I then ordered the official motor vehicle accident report.  Here it is:

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Pop the image open to read it.  The red ink is mine. What!? So the guy was going to get off Scot free!?  No arrest?!  He was not even going to get a ticket?! What if it was the same guy who was ramming cars in Geneva?  He was going to get away with those assaults too, and threaten the safety of others?

Not if I could help it.

The next day I headed to the Geneva Police Department with my Seneca County accident report in hand. I explained I was looking for a connection between my hit-and-run and some Facebook reports about similar incidents in Geneva.  The Geneva Police had in fact heard about a tan-colored pickup truck involved in a hit-and-run rear-ender.  Turns out the driver of that vehicle had been arrested the day before for rear-ending someone in Ontario County and then attempting to flee.  But the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department, not the Geneva Police, had made the arrest. Geneva PD checked the computer for me.  The name of the man matched the owner of the vehicle that I had chased down, except that the middle initial was different.

Bingo.  Same vehicle in both “accidents”.  But now they were looking not like  accidents but assaults.

I then called the Ontario Count Sheriff’s office and informed them of my case involving the same vehicle and of the other alleged similar cases that had been reported on Facebook.  They were unaware of any of this.  The next day they called me back.  They  had made some phone calls based on the new information I had given them.  They had been able to establish that the same tan pickup truck had performed yet a third rear-end collision in Wayne County sometime during week before.

So now we had three confirmed cases involving the same serial rear-ending vehicle.  But only in the Ontario County case had they caught the driver red-handed.  In the other two cases (including mine) the victims had only gotten the licence plate number.  The driver in the Ontario County case was the twenty something year-old son of the owner. They have the same name except the middle initial.

I have been on the phone with both the Seneca and Ontario County Sheriffs’ Departments since then.  As far as I know, the young driver has not been charged with any crime.  As far as I know, he has only received a ticket for leaving the scene of an accident in the Ontario County case.  Leaving the scene of an accident where no one is injured, just property damage, is not even a misdemeanor, just a violation with a $250 fine.  And he still has not been charged with anything, and not even given a traffic ticket, in my case.  The last conversation I had with the Seneca County Deputy was not very promising.  He said he did not think they could put the kid behind the wheel, and even if we could, we might not be able to establish it was deliberate rather than just an accident.

But I feel pretty confident it was deliberate.  It was a crime – assault – in my opinion. How do I know?  The truck rammed me quickly from behind, and then sped off without missing a beat.  If it had been an “accident” (if, for example, the driver had been texting and failed to see me, and had accidentally struck me) the shock of the collision would have caused him at least some pause before he sped off.  Instead, this was a single-swoop whack-and-run job with no pause or slow-down at all.  It had all the hallmarks of a premeditated strike.

Why did he do it?  At first I had no idea.  Then I started looking for clues.  Maybe I was going too slow for him?  Road rage?  But this made no sense; I had been trailing a tractor trailer and could not be blamed for my moderate speed.

Something else came to mind:  There was something weird  about the way he hit me.  At the last moment before contacting the rear of my car, he swerved left and then abruptly right so as to whack only the left rear corner of my car, causing me to lose traction and control momentarily, which is when he passed me on the left.  Here’s  the damage to my car:

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Looking for clues, I went back to the driver’s FACEBOOK homepage.  Here is what it looks like:

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Blow up the image.  See the grim reaper figure?  It has a “NASCAR SALUTES” emblem on it.   So he’s NASCAR fan. A huge fan.  And a fan of death (grim reaper).  It’s the first thing on his homepage.

I am not a NASCAR fan.  But after discussing NASCAR with my law partner David Kalabanka, who knows a thing or two about the sport, we came up with a theory about his motive:  We believe this kid has been practicing a NASCAR maneuver called “bump-and-run” on me and the others he has rear-ended.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the bump-and-run maneuver:

Bump and run is a technique for passing used in stock car racing . . . where a trailing car intentionally bumps the rear bumper of the car in front of it. The bump sometimes causes the lead car’s rear tires to momentarily lose traction.  The driver of the lead car is forced to correct his steering, slow down, or at least stop accelerating to regain traction and/or car attitude. The trailing driver positions to pass the leading car before the next corner. 

You can watch a clip of a bump-and-run maneuver here.

So I was NOT the victim of a “hit-and-run” but rather of a “bump-and-run” in an imaginary NASCAR race played out in the warped mind of this young man.   The other victims in Ontario and Wayne County were also unwitting participants in a NASCAR race. And there may be more rear-ending events we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps other victims will come forward?

Keep in mind that, at least to my knowledge, this kid has still not been charged with a crime for what he did.  In my opinion, law enforcement needs to tie all these rear loose ends together and charge the guy with crimes.  In my opinion, this sicko should be charged with attempted assault and assault. Mere traffic tickets (leaving the scene of accidents) are not enough.

I think we have enough evidence to put the young man “behind the wheel” in all three cases and to prove in each case his actions were deliberate. The proof is called “modus operandi”, which is defined asa distinct pattern or method of operation that indicates or suggests the work of a single criminal in more than one crime”.  How many people can there be in the world who (1) have access to this same tan pickup truck and (2) use it to repeatedly ram vehicles from behind and (3) then take off?

This young man is sick.  He needs help.  But first we have to  get him OFF THE ROAD.  And the only way to do that is to press all the serious charges we can.

He apparently is not getting the help he needs at home.  Remember, his father, who owns the pickup truck, refused to cooperate with the Seneca County Deputy investigating my hit-and-run.  He refused to say who had access to his truck on that day and at that time.  He referred the Deputy Sheriff to his lawyer.  Then, a week later, his son did the same bump-and-run maneuver to another victim in Ontario County. Is the father complicit?

In a criminal case, the State needs to show guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  Law enforcement is thus may fear they don’t have enough proof that the same driver was responsible for all three rear-enders and/or that the “accidents” were deliberate, i.e., assaults.

But if our local law enforcers can’t or won’t bring charges I have a backup plan.  I will sue the kid for assault and the father for  negligent entrustment of a dangerous instrument.  I will ask for punitive damages. This will be a civil case will civil case rules. My burden of proof will not be “beyond a reasonable doubt” but simply “more likely than not”.  I am sure I can meet that lower burden.  Unlike law enforcement, I can force father and son to talk.  In a civil case, as plaintiff, I have a right to take their deposition.  I get to ask them questions under oath.   The Constitution won’t protect them.  Sure, they can refuse to answer any questions on the grounds that it might incriminate they , but if they do that, I will get a default judgment against them.

It’s not about the money, not at all.  Their behavior is proof of their lack of assets.  Can’t get water from a rock. They clearly have nothing to lose or they would not behave this way. But having a big judgment hanging over their heads will perhaps give them some pause before they try something like this again.

I believe in redemption.   I’ll make him a deal:  If he and his family prove to me that he is getting treatment for whatever mental disturbance is causing his dangerous behavior, I’ll forgive the judgement.

Lessons from all this:

  • The road can be a dangerous place
  • Holding people accountable for their actions matters.  It makes the world safer.
  • Never give up in the pursuit of justice.
  • Give a guy — especially a young guy — a chance at redemption.

Keep safe!

Mike Bersani
Email me at: bersani@michaels-smolak.com I’d love to hear from you!
michaels-smolak.com
Syracuse Accident Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.
315-253-3293

 

 

 

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