Last week, a 14 year old girl walking from school was struck and seriously injured by an errant motorist. The girl was hit so hard that her body left damage on the front end of the vehicle and her head broke the windshield. The girl, while injured, was extraordinarily lucky and will be okay over the course of time. I am sure, however, that she will be suffering both physically and mentally.
The driver fled the scene, leaving the injured girl on the street and in doing so, committed a felony crime and, perhaps more obvious, totally disregarded his moral duty to stop and assist the person he just injured. The driver in this case has a suspended driver's license, as well as some prior criminal issues.
While these kinds of hit-and-run incidents are not entirely uncommon, this particular case is noteworthy -- not because we now know of a cowardly criminal, but because of the combined efforts of people at the scene, the police, the dispatchers and the county's auto theft unit, whose collective efforts helped to take care of the injured girl and provide the information needed to capture the suspect. This was an excellent example about the good of our community and the teamwork that took place leading to the suspect's arrest.
When the girl was struck, other students immediately rushed to her side to help to stabilize her and give her as much comfort as possible. Witnesses called the police without delay, provided updates on the victim's status, vehicle description information, a partial license plate and the suspect's direction of travel. At the same time, police were arriving on the scene, fire and ambulance personnel were attending to the victim, the police were combing the community in an effort to locate the suspect and our Crime Analyst was busy doing possible suspect background research. Dispatchers were very busy managing all of the radio communications and phone calls that were coming in with information about the collision. Ultimately, a witness called with a complete vehicle license number, which gave the police the information needed to track down the suspect. As it turned out, a member of the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force (STANCATT) was in the neighborhood where the suspect's vehicle was registered to, which led to the arrest.
In addition to the activities described above, this incident was posted on the Ceres Police Department Facebook page as it was happening, with the intent of letting people know that there would be traffic delays and provide updates. The idea, of course, is to enlist as much public assistance as possible and keep the community informed.
In this instance, everything came together in true teamwork fashion. A young girl will live, the suspect is in custody, and together we have sent a message of solidarity against crime. There are some things to remember and capitalize on. The first is that motorists should be extremely careful around schools! Regardless of whether the students follow pedestrian rules, motorists must expect the unexpected. And for incident witnesses to be the most effective, be sure to organize your thoughts when calling the dispatch center. Quickly give a description of the incident, whether someone is hurt and ambulance needed, suspect and involved vehicle information, your contact phone number and name.
When dispatchers are extremely busy, as they were during emergencies like this one, they may come across as being extremely business-like, almost to the point of sounding impersonal. But they do not mean to be rude. In fact, they appreciate the information you are giving them and are working so fast and diligently that there is no time for pleasantries. If you met these dispatchers, you would find them to be very personable and caring about everyone they serve. I, for one, am very proud of them and I know the stress under which they operate. So try not to get frustrated when you are calling during emergency circumstances; we need your help and the information you can provide.
This unfortunate pedestrian hit-and-run case happened on the second day of school, so I hope it serves as a reminder about school zone safety. At the same time, the public response, and dispatcher and police performance was excellent and makes me proud to serve and to be part of this community.
Art De Werk is the Chief of Public Safety in Ceres