Note: some viewers may find the above video disturbing.
UPDATE, Oct. 18: Police arrested a 64-year-old man from Northeast in this case. SEE STORY
Ruth* thought she was doing everything right. Her dog was on a leash, held by her middle schooler. She was holding hands with her six-year-old son as they crossed C Street NE in the crosswalk at 12th Street NE that Wednesday, Oct. 4.
She made eye contact with the driver of a 2005 black Nissan Armada headed westbound and paused at the stop sign across 12th Street.
What happened next can be seen in video from a nearby security camera. The driver comes just short of a full stop before he begins rolling forward, accelerating as the family crossed at the crosswalk opposite.
He hit them as they reached the middle of the street.
“I am looking directly at him. We are in the middle of the intersection,” Ruth said of the moments just before the collision. (The Hill Rag is using an alias to protect her identity). “I would bet my life that he had seen me.”
Neighbors Rush to Aid
Ruth remembers screaming as the SUV bore down. She was knocked out of her shoes. Her middle schooler, also looking at the vehicle, jumped out of the way.
But her 6-year-old son –just seconds ago happily holding her hand and skipping across the street –bore the brunt of the collision. When the car came to a stop, he was crumpled under the front end of the SUV, his left foot pinned under the driver’s side wheel. The dog lay on the ground under the car.
Bystanders quickly ran up to the scene; one told the driver to back up, freeing the 6-year-old’s foot. It had been picture day at school; the boy’s white pants were covered in blood. Crying, he nonetheless assured his mother that he was okay.
Another witness ran up to the driver and told him to pull over. “I’m going to, I’m going to,” the driver told him, as Ruth recalls it.
The video shows what happened next: as the good Samaritan turned to check on the family, the driver pulled away slowly as if to the side of the road. He then took off, the Samaritan hot in pursuit on foot.
A police officer was nearby and pursued the car, but due to MPD policy returned shortly, telling bystanders he could not engage in a high-speed car chase. But one of the neighbors noted the license plate, calling 911 immediately.
Fortunately, the bodily injuries to the family were not life-threatening. The blood on the 6-year-old’s pants turned out to be his mother’s. Her hand was cut as she tried to push her family away from the oncoming vehicle.
Th 6-year-old’s foot is broken, however, and the family is seeing an orthopedic surgeon to determine next steps. Miraculously, the family dog got up and walked away with minor injuries.
“It’s pretty disturbing to think he could have killed my dog and my son and left them dead in the street. Luckily they’re not,” Ruth said of the driver.
“That’s the most horrifying for me, that someone would plow through a woman, a dog and two children –and then just drive off.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, police said there were no updates to the case. However, sources speaking on background said MPD had recovered the vehicle and believed that officers will make an arrest in the case.
Ruth said police gave the impression that the suspect may have a prior record of dangerous driving. She understands from her conversations that he was a DC driver in a vehicle with out-of-state tags.
“I’ve been racking my brain over and over as I replay this –what would cause somebody to flee a scene like that?” she said. “Maybe it’s that he’s underinsured, or maybe he was intoxicated. I don’t know. It’s just so brazen to run over small children and not even stop to make sure they’re alive.”
One witness who walked by the scene after the accident told Ruth that he had just come from a public hearing on four bills that address dangerous driving in the District. The passerby suggested she contact Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D), who co-introduced the bills, together with Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1-D) and Christine Henderson (At Large-I).
Those bills make changes to DC Code that carry stiffer penalties for dangerous drivers. The bills target enforcement at those drivers consistently endangering others, even if their fines have been paid and grant OAG the ability to pursue out of state drivers in civil court. Another bill would suspend the license of drivers and the registration of all vehicles they own in cases of negligent homicide while driving, driving while intoxicated –or leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury.
According to current DC Code, drivers who leave the scene of an accident face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
“It was horrible hearing about it,” Allen said of the accident, “but it was even more gut-wrenching watching the video.”
Allen said the goal of the legislation is to get dangerous drivers off the road. Drivers with a large number of tickets could see their vehicle taken off the road; those drivers with repeated high-speed violations could lose their licenses.
DC does not currently have reciprocity agreements with Maryland and Virginia, meaning that out-of-state drivers face no consequences for hundreds of thousands of unpaid tickets issued by the city’s speed cameras. The bill gives the District Office of the Attorney General (OAG) the ability to go after those drivers in civil court.
Under the proposed bill, a hit and run involving personal injury such as this one would result in the immediate suspension of the driver’s license.
“The sense of urgency around something like this still doesn’t seem to be there,” Allen said. A week after the accident, he notes, with the vehicle apparently in MPD custody, the driver has still not been charged. “I think that’s what people want to see –that there is a system and a city that takes this kind of collision and injury seriously.”
Engineering Needs Enforcement
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) for the area Amber Gove (6A04) submitted testimony to the public hearing on that suite of legislation to curb dangerous driving. “Basically, I wrote a short introduction that said, “pass the legislation so none of this has to be said again,” she said.
Gove has also spoken with the family involved in this incident. She said ANC 6A worked with DDOT to make roadway improvements to the C Street NE corridor, implemented in spring of this year. Those engineering changes were intended to discourage dangerous driver behaviors, such as speeding, in part by decreasing the similarities between the street and a highway.
The intersection of C with 12th Street NE has not been the subject of a request for traffic lights by the ANC, Gove said. She points to research by city planner Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City Rules. Speck draws on a mass conversion of traffic lights to stop signs in Philadelphia that led to a 68 percent reduction in severe pedestrian injuries to argue that 4-way stop signs are safer than lights.
There’s usually interaction and eye contact between driver and pedestrian at a signed intersection, rarely true at a light, Speck notes. Drivers also usually at least slow down at a sign, rather than speed up to beat the red light. “If that intersection had a traffic light, it could actually have been worse,” Gove said, pointing to Speck’s work.
But, Gove said, engineering can protect vulnerable road users and improve behavior among law-abiding drivers. That’s a large proportion, but not everyone. “Engineering is only one of the three “E’s” of road safety,” she noted. “You still need education –and enforcement.”
Gratitude, Call for Change
Ruth goes over her family’s own incident again and again. “I’m upset and questioning all the things I could have done differently, like having them on the left [side of her] instead of the right. But I can’t change anything now.”
But she can make changes to the future. She said she would like to see some additional neighborhood safety emerge from this incident.
In addition to Gove and Allen, Ruth has reached out to organizations working for safer streets.
She said the family is deeply grateful to the bystanders, neighbors and community members who came to their aid at the scene and offered support and encouragement in the following days.
The investigation is ongoing. In particular, police are interested in speaking with the good Samaritan who asked the driver to pull over.
If you have any information about this case, contact the MPD First District Command Center at (202) 727-9099. You can text anonymous tips, photos or video to the Department’s Text Tip Line at 50411.
MPD currently offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a crime committed in the District of Columbia.
This story has been updated to include comments from Councilmember Charles Allen.