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Hit-and-Run Alert System Spreads Statewide

May 9, 2014
Car accidents

On March 25, 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the Medina Alert system into law for the entire state of Colorado, extending it beyond the initial coverage areas in the cities of Denver and Aurora. The system, which alerts the public about hit-and-run accidents, is the first of its kind in the nation.

Similar to the Amber Alert system that spreads information about cases of abducted children, the Medina Alert is named for Jose Medina, a victim of a hit-and-run accident. In January 2011, Medina was struck and killed by a motorist outside the Denver club where he worked as a parking valet.

The alert system is used in cases where a pedestrian or cyclist suffers severe injury or death after being struck by a motorist who leaves the scene. It authorizes the use of overhead highway signs to spread information, as well as releasing information to the media and by other channels that can inform the public. The alert is only used when there is a good description of the fleeing vehicle, which can be used to identify the hit-and-run driver and make an arrest.

Hit-and-run accidents are among the most difficult crimes to solve. These cases place a high burden of proof on law enforcement officials while often providing little reliable evidence to work with. Police must rely on vehicle descriptions from people at the scene, if there are any witnesses at all beyond the victim. It can be hard to prove that damage to a vehicle was caused by a specific accident, and the longer it takes police to identify the vehicle involved, the more time there is for the owner to have the damage repaired, erasing the evidence. Ultimately, even if the police locate the vehicle, they still need to prove who was behind the wheel. Making these accidents even more tragic is that in some cases, motorists who accidentally hit pedestrians or cyclists might have saved their lives by stopping to call 911 or provide assistance.

The Medina Alert law gives law enforcement officials a better chance to find some hit-and-run drivers by alerting the public to the accident and providing a description of the vehicle. By making information about the accident and the involved vehicle public, police can get tips that lead quickly to making arrests and providing necessary evidence. According to a Denver Post story about the Medina Alert law, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said that 17 cases of hit-and-run accidents have triggered Medina Alerts since the inception of the system, and 13 of those cases have been solved. The case of Jose Medina, which inspired the alert system, relied on information from a cab driver who followed the vehicle after the accident. The driver provided police with both the license plate number and enough information to result in arrest of all the people involved.

Other areas have expressed interest in the Medina Alert system, including Portland, Oregon, and the state of Washington. Medina’s mother, Linda Limon Medina, lives in Utah and has been working to have a similar system created there.

The Medina Alert cannot help in every case of hit-and-run accidents. Officials specifically limit the alerts issued to those with reliable descriptions of the vehicle involved to avoid desensitizing the public to the alerts and not use the system on cases where it cannot reasonably be expected to help. Still, the system has proven itself to help law enforcement officials in the areas where it has first been implemented, bringing closure to several cases that otherwise may never have been solved. Officials hope that by extending the alert system statewide, they can bring even more hit-and-run perpetrators to justice.

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