INDIANAPOLIS – More than a year after an Indianapolis mother lost her toddler to a hit-and-run, police have yet to find the person responsible. This heartbreaking case is just part of an increasing trend across the city.
Just two weeks before Eli turned two, he wandered outside as his mother was loading things into her car, his 10-year-old sister following close behind. Little did they know they were just moments away from tragedy.
“She heard the car coming and told Eli to come back, but he was already running,” Ariel Anders, the children’s mother said. “So, she picked up and ran behind him and she said she could see the headlights on Eli and within a second of her stepping in the street. The car just hit them both.”
Leah survived. Eli didn’t. He was killed two weeks before his 2nd birthday. The driver that hit them both—never stopped, just kept driving.
Eli’s case was just one of 17 deadly hit-and-runs that year. This number would only grow in the following years.
Solving these hit-and-run cases is an ongoing battle for detectives in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's hit-and-run unit. Detectives have cleared all but two deadly hit-and-run cases in 2022. However, they only cleared about half of the cases in 2021.
"It's pretty difficult," said Douglas Heustis, supervisor of the hit-and-run unit. "One of the problems is there is no connection between the driver and the victim."
Beyond deadly hit-and-runs, the unit is also investigating cases where the victims were wounded. So far in 2022, there were more than a dozen reported hit-and-runs where the victim was hurt.
"These injuries go on for a long time, perhaps a lifetime they really affect people their ability to work, and interact with their family," said Heustis. "it’s very tragic, even if they’re not killed they can be very tragic or very difficult for them."
Detectives have had cases where a victim was alive hours after the impact. If that driver would have stopped to get help, it would have increased their chances to survive.
The IMPD is continuing to work with agencies like the Department of Public Works to determine contributing factors in fatal crashes, including deadly hit-and-runs. This includes reviewing areas where the crashes are taking place and figuring out if there are some engineering factors that they could address.
"Sometimes just improving lighting or even just improving crosswalks," Heustis said. "Sometimes the simple stuff, even placement of signs. They talk about even brush and tree removal.
The FOX59 Crime Mapping team took a look at where deadly hit-and-run crashes happened over the past three years. We found many of the crashes took place near intersections. A large cluster of crashes took place on East 38th Street near Emerson Avenue.
The city of Indianapolis is working to improve at least one aspect that may contribute to hit-and-run crashes. In 2016, Mayor Joe Hogsett lifted a moratorium that was in place for more than 35 years. That moratorium stopped the new installation of street lights.
Since, then, the city has converted more than 27,000 streetlights to LED lighting and hopes to add up to 4,000 new streetlights.
Heustis said driving down dark roads may contribute to drivers not stopping. He gave us an example of a woman driving down a dark road and hitting something. She may be hesitant to get out at that point and look around. He says even in these cases, there are ways drivers can report what happened while staying safe.
"If they drive to like a lighted location, a gas station, the nearest phone place near a safe place and call us right away," said Heustis.
In other cases, Heustis said it comes to the mindset of the driver. He said he has seen cases where the driver never even slowed down.
"We have videos or good witnesses is that the drivers don't even slow down. They hit and they just go it's the almost automatic reaction to hitting something and taking off," said Heustis.
In Eli's case, the IMPD was able to get a video of the suspect's car turning onto South State Street. Ariel said she hoped that the video would help bring answers to who killed her little boy.
"I thought as soon as someone notices this car or remembers something about that night it’s going to, they’re going to be in jail soon after," said Ariel.
A year and a half later, the driver that killed Ariel's youngest child has not been caught. She fears Eli will just become another statistic.
"I feel like people get so used to hearing them now, it’s just like another hit and run, another hit and run but those people had families," said Ariel. "Those babies had moms who weren’t ever expecting to outlive their children."
Heustis said he wants families like Ariel's to know that they are still actively working on their cases. They work their cases based on the severity, with fatal hit-and-runs on the top of the list.
"There's lots that we can do. But sometimes it gets down to the point where we have to get people, especially suspects, to cooperate. And that's difficult to do," said Heustis.
Some of the processes that they have for obtaining information are not fast. Heustis gave an example of waiting on DNA results. He also said things like looking through phone records take time.
"It's not initially a fast process, but we do work them," said Heustis.
For Ariel though, as the days, weeks and months go by, it gets tougher to remain hopeful that she will get closure.
If you have any information on this case, or any other case, you are asked to call Crime Stoppers at 317-232-8477.