Jacksonville third in state in hit-and-run accidents
Despite being seventh in population, hit-and-run numbers have skyrocketed as more leave accident scenes.
Sandi Sandberg vividly remembers the day she almost was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
Last June, she was driving west on Beaver Street at the intersection of Interstate 95 when a trailer detached from a white pickup truck going east. That trailer flew head-on into her car.
"I saw the trailer go airborne and there was nothing I could do before it hit me," Sandberg said.
When emergency responders extracted her, Sandberg found out she'd broken bones in both legs. A hospital stay and months of rehabilitation followed before she returned to work in December.
The driver of the truck was never found, and her 2007 Saturn Ion was damaged beyond repair. Police were unable to identify the driver from the trailer, which didn't have a license plate.
Sandberg's accident was not caught on tape, so her story did not get the attention afforded Karen Hanel after she was hit around the same time in the Shands Jacksonville parking lot by a hit-and-run driver chased by police.
These women are only two of the many victims of hit-and-run accidents in recent years.
Although it's the state's seventh-largest county, Duval follows Miami-Dade and Broward counties with the third-most hit-and-runs in 2008, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Numbers for 2009 will not be available for several months, but Duval was in the top four in 2006 and 2007.
Leaving the scene of a fatality is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It is also a felony to leave the scene of an accident when someone is injured, but it's a misdemeanor when there are no injuries.
Assistant State Attorney Mark Borello, who prosecutes hit-and-run cases in Jacksonville, said the city's large size is a factor in the number of cases. Duval County includes downtown Jacksonville, but also many rural areas without sidewalks that are dangerous for pedestrians, he said.
Whatever the reason, Borello's numbers have skyrocketed. In 2006, there were 349 prosecutions of hit-and-run drivers. In 2007 and 2008, that number climbed to more than 2,000
There's no sure reason behind the increase, but Lt. Bill Leeper of the Florida Highway Patrol said it could come from technological advances with cell phones, postings on online social network pages, more thorough investigations and more witnesses willing to come forward.
Lt. G.W. Grant with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said it's been his experience that hit-and-run drivers tend to leave the scene because they don't have a driver's license or insurance, have been drinking or have an outstanding warrant. And although there are often bystanders, he said, they tend to focus on the victim.
Danny Berenberg has been one - twice.
The first time he and his wife were run off A1A in Ponte Vedra Beach and into a ditch. The second time he was a pedestrian hit by a car in Jacksonville Beach.
Both accidents resulted in hospital stays and back injuries that required physical therapy, and Berenberg believes the second accident aged him. Despite this, he tries to keep a positive attitude.
"What I have lost is the time, the pain and the ability to ride my bicycle or exercise in the gym," he said.
Sandberg said she suspects many drivers don't have licen- ses or insurance, and that's why they don't stop. Her husband, Bob Sandberg, is more blunt.
"People today just aren't paying attention," he said. "I saw a woman putting on makeup while driving a few months ago."
When Bob Sandberg went to the junk yard to look at the car his wife was driving, he didn't recognize it until someone pointed it out to him.
He says he's not angry at the hit-and-run driver, but would like to ask that person a question.
"Why didn't you stop?" he asked. "You might have killed someone."
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