Here’s a question from a Road Warrior reader:

I pulled into the Mendocino Ave Safeway parking lot to make a quick stop.  As I drove down an aisle, a car ahead started pulling out of a spot so I stopped to let him get out.  Looking left I see that a pickup directly opposite me was starting to back out.   While he was easing out very slowly he didn’t seem to be aware that I was right behind him so I started honking my horn but he slowly, slowly continued to back right into the left side of my car!  A shopper who was on the other side of my car said “I can’t believe he just did that!” because the horn had gotten everybody else’s attention.

The driver put his truck into forward and headed back into the spot, slowly drove over the curbing separating aisles, pulled out into the next row and headed toward the exit.  “Oh no you don’t!” I thought as I drove  to catch up.   While the driver was obviously trying to get away, he wasn’t in a great hurry; no squealing tires or sudden acceleration.  He was driving slow and steady as he pulled out onto Mendocino and into the parking lot of a restaurant across the street.  I followed and pulled up to his passenger side door to block him in while I was again leaning on my horn.  I got a good look at the driver at that point and not only didn’t he look in my direction but there didn’t seem to be any fear or apprehension on his face, just a blank look as he navigated past my car.

At that point I realized he wasn’t going to stop and if cornered would most likely do something stupid to get away (like pull out into oncoming traffic or go up over a curb on the sidewalk) so following was likely to cause more damage than was worth the effort.  I stopped in the parking lot and called 911 on my mobile phone, giving the license plate number, a description of the truck and driver as well as the direction he was heading when I last saw him.  They asked if I wanted them to send an officer to make a report but the damage was minimal enough that I didn’t want to waste their time (the damage wasn’t enough to seek repairs or make an insurance claim).  I left my name and number with the dispatcher but never heard back, so I assume they didn’t catch the guy.

What’s the best thing to do in these cases? George

The answer comes from Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Rich Celli, who says that it’s best to call police and “let us figure it all out.”

In the reader’s case, Celli said it was a hit and run. He says that in many cases the offending driver doesn’t realize he/she has hit another car until notified by police. And in most cases, he says, the victim just wants the damage fixed and isn’t interested in pressing charges, so police typically put the two parties in contact with each other and let them handle the matter.

As for following a hit-run driver, Celli says as long as you’re being safe, following the traffic laws and not putting yourself or others in danger, it’s OK. But he says it’s best to call police with the license plate number and let officers track down the offender. He says the offender might have just committed a crime or might be a wanted criminal who you don’t want to tangle with.

He says the Police Department will put a hit-run investigator on the case but only 10 to 20 percent of the cases are submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution with most other cases being resolved between the parties.


If you have a question for the Road Warrior, please email it to jim.fremgen@pressdemocrat.com


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  1. Randel

    I thought a hit and run was a major offense, a four pointer on your license just as bad as a drunk driving. Since when do the police just treat it like a fender bender, and not go after the offenders? No wonder so many people are being hit and the driver just keeps going.

    November 10th, 2012 8:09 am

  2. Lauren

    I was involved in a hit and run accident in Santa Rosa on College avenue. The driver T-boned my passenger door as I pulled forward to get out of the street she drove away! I had major damage to my vehicle and body injury that lasted over a year since I was pregnant. I called 911 and the only reason they were able to catch the girl who hit me was because her front license plate fell off at the scene of the accident. 1. She was talking on her cell phone when she hit me. 2. She was uninsured. 3. She drove away but turned herself in several hours later (I Personally think she was drunk). Regardless she was prosicuted by the DA and sentenced to 10 days in county and a few years probation.

    November 10th, 2012 10:46 am

  3. Fred Mangels

    @ Randel: Do we really want to consider minor fender benders a “major offense”? I feel the same way as most probably do that someone that runs away from an accident should feel some pain, but let’s be sensible here.

    The writer said the damage was so minor he didn’t even feel like filing an insurance claim: “..the damage was minimal enough that I didn’t want to waste their time (the damage wasn’t enough to seek repairs or make an insurance claim).”.

    I’d like to see the driver that ran off get some sort of penalty for running, but do we really want to make a major issue over something like this accident? It certainly wouldn’t make sense to go racing down the street after him.

    November 10th, 2012 11:01 am

  4. Jimbo

    Nonsense. I’ve had TWO similar situations, and both times followed AND called 911. BOTH times I was told by dispatch to PULL OVER and stop following. So insistent were they that I was told NO OFFICER would be dispatched UNTIL I pulled over “somewhere safe” and stopped. In both instances the perps got away, despite getting tag numbers and driver’s descriptions.

    November 10th, 2012 1:35 pm

  5. Fred Mangels

    I could see chasing after someone if he hit someone in a crosswalk and took off, but not for a minor fender bender.

    November 11th, 2012 10:14 am

  6. Rex Faktor

    I got hit once while sitting at a red light not moving by someone coming around a corner behind me (his RF hit my LR). I would have chased him to the moon, were I not blocked in by other cars and if I did not have a child in the car. I pulled over and called SRPD (dispatch# not 911) and provided license#. They showed up, asked if I could id the driver, which I could not since I was focused on the plate/car desc. They went to the guy’s house and got me the RO’s insurance info. I got a check for $932 after some time from his insurance for the cost to repaint my rear fascia. But the actual driver of the car (not the RO) got no penalty because I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, even though the police knew who he was…

    November 11th, 2012 5:25 pm

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