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Growing problem on Columbus roads: Victims, families desperate for answers after hit skips

Hit-skips are a problem on Central Ohio roads and victims have been reaching out to ABC6/FOX28 for answers. (WSYX/WTTE)

Hit-skips are a problem on Central Ohio roads and victims have been reaching out to ABC6/FOX28 for answers.

"I was going to the bus stop," said hit-skip victim Josheiana Lamar.

Work was wrapping up for the young woman on October 16th near the corner of Ferris Road and Cleveland Avenue, when an instant changed everything.

"It threw me, like a couple feet," said Lamar.

At first, she didn't know what it was, but it turned out to be a car, and the driver didn't stop.

"I walked out of the trees and I was like waving for someone to help me," said Lamar.

Another driver finally did stop and called police.

"I know he felt himself hit me and I think I might have even made eye contact with him," said Lamar.

Lamar has been recovering. She fractured her eye and fears she may lose her teeth. She can't remember much of what happened that day, and the driver and potential witnesses aren't coming forward.

She reached out to ABC6/FOX28 for help.

"Hit-and-run, how many are unsolved? Because that is a big deal," said Lamar.

Sergeant Brooke Wilson leads Columbus Police's Accident Investigation Unit.

"The last couple of months where we had a couple of fatal hit-skips kind of in close proximity, so that is really what I think has been making people more aware of the hit-skip problem," said Lamar.

Numbers provided by Sgt. Wilson help paint the picture. In Franklin County, drivers leave the scene in about one-in-ten crashes in recent years. When they do leave, it can be almost impossible to track those drivers down.

Last year almost 87 percent of hit-skips in Franklin County went unsolved, up from 2015. Most are property hit-skips.

"Somebody is going to make a choice," said Sgt. Wilson. "Are they going to do the right thing?"

If someone sideswipes your car and takes off, the first responding officer has the first responsibility to investigate. There are 13 investigators in the Accident Investigation Unit looking into the rest, which is when someone is seriously hurt or dies.

But, is that enough? Sgt. Wilson said it is not.

"Everybody in the police department wants more people, yes," said Sgt. Wilson.

He said they follow up on thousands of crashes a year. He said even with cameras, some investigations can be dead ends.

"We can actually see a crash," said Sgt. Wilson, "and then we see all of our witnesses drive away."

So, what is the solution?

"We don't want to turn our society into a police state," said Sgt. Wilson. "We don't want video tape at every intersection, investigatively that would help, but at what cost?"

These are crimes that often leave families searching for answers.

"You're numb," said Frank Gavula, the father of a victim. "You don't know what to say or what to do."

A driver took off in Clintonville on Labor Day weekend this year, hitting and sideswiping a string of cars. That driver did not stop, eventually slamming into 35-year-old Adrienne Gavula. Her car was stopped at a red light at High Street and Arcadia Avenue.

"They kept trying things and trying things and she would have never wanted to live like that," said her father.

Gavula was a community leader, working for the ACLU of Ohio for years.

"She was generous and always pushed people to be the very best you can be," said Frank Gavula.

Right now, no arrests have been made and police continue their investigation.

"I want revenge," said her dad. "I would like to see him in jail."

Family and friends have posted fliers.

"She fought for everyone," said close friend Allie Johnson. "She would have fought for the man who killed her."

Flowers are still in front of the tree where Adrienne lost her life those months ago.

Police said they cannot comment on either case because the investigations into both remain open. Numbers show the Accident Investigation Unit solves many fatal hit skips.

Columbus' mayor just announced that $2 million will be dedicated to police for special projects targeting street safety and solving murders. That money will go to overtime, not for additional officers.

Police told ABC6/FOX28 that additional officers are always wanted, but in terms of the next budget, it is premature to say more at this point.

In the meantime, police also said they will continue to look at accident patterns and shift patrols where needed.

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