Indianapolis sees significant increase in hit-and-run crashes as more drivers leave victims for dead

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - A cowardly crime is on the rise in Indianapolis as FOX59 has learned more and more drivers are running away from accidents, leaving their victims for dead.

Earlier this year, 50-year-old Annastaisha Sandlin was struck and killed by a car as she walked her bike along Shelby St. The driver tried to make a run for it, but was later arrested.

"They just left my best friend there," recalled friend Windy Sparks. "We're angry. We're really angry."

Sandlin was one of 12 people in Indianapolis killed in hit-and-run crashes in the first nine months of the year. But would you believe, that number is just the tip of the iceberg?

FOX59 found out there are not dozens, but thousands of hit-and-runs each year you never hear about.

Thousands of hit-and-runs

We obtained IMPD's crash reports and were surprised to see the numbers.

In 2016, there were 5,049 hit-and-runs reported to IMPD; 543 of them involved injuries. The next year, that number jumped to 5,539 hit-and-run reports. The number of injuries jumped as well, to 594.

By October of 2018, IMPD had already written up 4,236 hit-and-run reports with 398 of those reports involving injuries.

We took our hit-and-run numbers and compared them with those from similar-sized cities like Columbus, Ohio and Fort Worth, Texas.

In Columbus, police reported just 3,635 hit and runs in 2017. That's lower than our 2017 number.

However, for that same year, Fort Worth police reported 5,865 hit and runs.

"What's crossing your mind? What's going on? Why didn't you think to stop?" asked Jessica Parks as she heard the numbers.

She was hit by a car while was crossing an Indianapolis street to get to work.

"I never made it across the street," she recalled. "I didn't feel the pain until I tried to stand up and couldn't stand up. That's when I knew something was wrong."

Jessica's leg was broken. As she lay on the pavement, the woman who hit her drove away.

"I didn't really understand how somebody could do that."

Thankfully, a couple of bystanders chased that woman down. She turned out to be in the country illegally and was eventually deported by ICE.

Lack of responsibility

"Beyond fatalities, there are life altering crashes," said Sgt. Doug Heustis, IMPD's Chief Crash Investigator. "There is a lack of responsibility on the part of some people and that's what this is."

Heustis said in most fatal hit-and-runs, the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The rest of the time, drivers simply run out of fear.

"Sometimes people don't have insurance. Or they don't have a driver's license. Or their driver's license is suspended. Or they may be wanted. They think they're wanted. They may get scared."

In 2017, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law that strengthened penalties for drivers accused in fatal hit-and-run crashes.

The new law created stronger penalties for a driver who hits and kills multiple people at once and leaves the scene of the crash. The law previously contained the same penalty for one crash, even if more than one person was seriously injured or killed. The penalties increase that felony charge if you also are drunk.

"It's unbelievable," added Sparks as she stood where a memorial was built for her best friend Annastaisha. "The numbers are unbelievable, the lives that are affected."

For those who have lost a loved one or whose own lives were turned upside down, the time has come to raise a voice and put a stop to this callous crime.

"There's no more humanity. There's no more care. There's no more love," said Sparks.

"You make the choice whether you're going to stop or whether you're going to keep going," Jessica said. "At some point, it needs to stop."

Parks created a support group for victims of hit-and-runs and their families called "Families of Hit and Runs" (F.O.H.A.R). For more information on how you can connect with her, click here.

Most offenders back on the streets within 5 years

This summer, we did an court records analysis on deadly hit-and-run offenders.

Because it's almost impossible to prove they were intoxicated at the time, suspects who leave scenes rarely face the stricter felony and are sentenced on a Level 5 felony instead.

The analysis showed most offenders are back on the streets within five years.

If you ever witness a hit-and-run, please call 911.