A Portland advocate for hit-and-run victims is calling for a statewide alert system that would send a text message to thousands of professional drivers and members of the public to help nab suspects.
Kristy Finney, whose son Dustin was killed in 2011 by a man driving drunk on Southeast Division Street, is modeling her proposal on a similar system already in use in Colorado for “cases involving serious injury or death — and when a reliable description of the fleeing vehicle is available.”
Last week, Colorado’s governor signed a statewide rollout of apparently successful pilot programs in Denver and Aurora. Here’s how the so-called “Medina Alert” will work there, according to Denver-based Rocky Mountain PBS:
The legislation instructs the state Department of Public Safety to set up a statewide alert system though television and radio, billboards and text messages whenever police need help locating a car and driver involved in a hit-and-run accident that led to a fatality or serious bodily injury.
The Medina Alert will be comparable to the Amber Alert for missing children.
The program was created by former Denver police officer Larry Stevenson in 2011 and named for Jose Medina, who was killed in 2011 by an hit-and-run driver on his first day of work as a parking valet. A taxicab driver who saw the accident called police and gave them a tip that helped catch the driver.
“The notification goes to all patrol cars, cabdrivers, news outlets, truck drivers and pedicab operators. A message is displayed on traffic reader boards and on Crime Stoppers’ Twitter and Facebook accounts,” adds the Denver Post.
That paper reported last year that seven such alerts had been issued in the area in 2012-2013, and “some have resulted in arrests.”
KATU-TV first reported last month on Finney’s campaign here in Portland, adding that “more than 1,200 cab drivers and 7,500 UPS trucks” are already enrolled in the Colorado programs. For Finney, who’s become an important figure in the local street safety world, it’s a way to marry modern technology with the public’s willingness to help apprehend criminals.
It also takes advantage of existing regulations that gather the contact information of professional drivers.
“I don’t want to get over it. I want to get out there and prevent it.”
— Kristi Finney on hit-and-run crashes
Last summer, after a string of ugly hit-and-run crashes, we wrote about the fundamental problem with hit-and-runs: though they carry basically the same penalty as drunken driving, hit-and-run drivers are harder to convict and seem to face less social stigma from judges and juries than people who drive drunk. It adds up to a system that makes some people think they’re better off leaving a crash’s victim to his or her fate.
At the time, Finney told us that she was working to build an online network for the family members of other hit-and-run victims — people like Linda Limon Medina, whose son Jose was killed in 2011 a few days before his wedding. A cab driver followed the fleeing vehicle and called police. Medina became an advocate for street safety legislation in Colorado, as Finney is in Oregon and Washington.
“My little voice does practically nothing, and if we can just get a bunch of us together to be a huge voice,” Finney said. “Some people want to get over it. I don’t want to get over it. I want to get out there and prevent it.”
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.