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No justice for hit and run victims as cases languish

On a sunny day last July, Steve Rogers and his wife were walking with their dog along a street in Puyallup when he was struck by the side view mirror of a passing pickup truck.

Dazed and hunched over, Steve glanced up to watch as the driver of the silver Dodge Ram swerved into oncoming traffic, pulled around a witness trying to flag him down, and then disappeared onto a busy street.

“It’s sad,” said Stacy Rogers. “If I were to hit an animal I would stop.”

She tried to snap a picture with her cell phone and was so hysterical, she said, that she couldn’t remember the number for 911.

When police arrived on the scene, she was able to recall a partial license plate of the truck and both she and her husband told the deputy they got a good look at the make, model and color. A witness, who stuck around to give a statement, said he got a “perfect” look at the suspect’s plate.

Later on, when the deputy was able to track down the truck at a home in Graham, the side view mirror was still broken, according to a police report. The deputy told the owner that witnesses could place the truck at the scene and there was probable cause to arrest him for felony hit and run.

The suspect denied involvement. He said his mirror had previously been shattered at the airport and his roommate would confirm that he was home all day.

Pierce County prosecutors declined to file charges.

“You can’t charge the car, obviously,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “It’s really all about the driver.”

It’s why felony hit and run cases are particularly difficult to solve.

Prosecutors must be able to prove who was behind the wheel and whether the driver knew they hit someone.

In King County, deputies have yet to make an arrest in the fatal hit and run of a North Bend woman that took place on New Year’s Eve.

Lucinda Pieczatkowski, 57, was struck by a pickup truck and killed while walking home. A broken headlight found at the scene led detectives to impound a 1988 Ford F150 pickup truck that they believe is connected to the crime.

But deputies have been unable to put the owner of that truck behind the wheel the night Pieczatkowski was killed. Her son, Erik Pieczatkowski, wants closure.

“Put yourself in my shoes and you’d want the person who did this to your family member to come forward as well,” he told KIRO Radio in March.

In certain cases, Lindquist said those who flee the scene of an accident turn what could have been a simple citation into something much more serious. The person who hit Steve Rogers could face more than a year in prison if he were to be charged and convicted of felony hit and run, for instance.

“The laws exists to encourage people to stick around, share information and summon medical aid if necessary,” Lindquist said. “In other words, the law exists just to encourage people to be good citizens to each other.”

Rogers said he may not have bothered to call police if the driver who hit him had simply stopped to make sure he was OK.

“If you would have pulled over I would have probably had a whole different attitude towards this,” he said. “I have a hard time forgiving you.”

The company that insured the owner of the truck that hit Steve offered to pay him $2,000 for medical expenses after the accident, but later rescinded the offer when the case never made it to trial.

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