Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Why I support the Life Before License Campaign - a personal story

One of the more common person on person crimes committed on our streets is that of Hit and Run. Because these crimes are under-reported, they occur more than we realize. My suspicion is that the number of incidents have increased over the years and in direct correlation to the escalation in punishment for drunk driving. People, when faced with DUI charges, have an enormous incentive to run due to the disparity in punishment between DUI and hit and run crimes. I've learned a great deal about hit and run law the hard way... through experience.

Photo taken after I was helped to the
curb from the middle of Glendale Blvd.
As a hit and run survivor, I know the lonely feeling of being left for dead after a collision. On May 19th 2009 I was riding a bicycle on Glendale blvd. I was doing everything right, I had the brightest lights money could buy, I was wearing a helmet, and I was riding in a legal, vehicular fashion when a driver plowed into me from behind at an estimated speed of 50 mph. It was 1 AM and the streets were relatively empty. My bike crumpled as it collided with the grill and my body sunk in to the hood of the gray 4 door 2009 Jaguar. I was carried and thrown some 50 feet and then.... left to fend for myself in the middle of the street. I saw it coming. The driver was speeding, swerving and out of control. I tried to move out of the way but it all happened so fast. Laying face down on the ground, blurry eyed, and in shock I still managed to get most of the plate numbers. Before I even moved I tweeted them on my smashed phone, afraid I would forget the numbers. Fearful of getting hit by another car I was able to crawl to the curb with the help of a security guard and a friend who arrived minutes later. I was taken to the hospital and released that morning - luckily - with only bruises and injuries to my spine, back, elbows and tailbone. Fortunately my helmet and street clothes had protected my body to a degree. Not everyone is as lucky as I was. In fact, just months before, a hit and run victim died not 30 yards from where I had landed.

You can see my phone in hand
which I used to tweet the plate number.
Still in great pain, the next day I called the LAPD thinking that having the plate numbers would mean an all out man hunt. On cop shows they always move quick when there are leads in the case right? Sadly, I was dead wrong. The officer who answered seemed almost annoyed that I called. "Did you get hurt?" I was smashed and thrown 50 feet onto the pavement, taken to the hospital and my bike was destroyed. "Did you break any bones?" No, but I'm bruised up, I can barely walk, and my back sustained heavy injury. "Well, it's going to take a couple weeks to run the plates. You only got 6 of the 7 numbers and you didn't break any bones..." I was told to "drive around the area" and "see if I could spot something." I was truly dismayed. What I didn't understand at the time was that hit and runs are so common on our streets that the police and city hardly have the resources lest someone dies. In fact, hit and run crime priority for the police is measured by the injury sustained not by the crime alone.
Video still of the car at the shop

6GYC611... I will never forget that plate number, which turned out to be registered to a car belonging to a man named Glenn Gritzner a politically connected person of sorts who had no priors on his record and seemed to otherwise be an upstanding financially responsible citizen. I was fortunate enough to have friends in high places my damn self, namely a young and scrappy lawyer named Danny Jimenez who had a connection in the CHP. It took all of 10 minutes to run the plates and car description turning up a potential match just two miles from the point of impact. It is worth noting that this officer put his neck on the line by handing over the info to Jimenez. The City Attorney pushed me hard to find out who the source of the plate ID was. I refused at first not wanting this person to get in trouble, but the courageous officer whose first name is Gio was vehement in moving forward. I am truly thankful for this man's dedication to justice and I consider him and Jimenez to be true heroes.
Video still of the car at the shop
Armed with the registered owner's info, Jimenez and I scoured Google, Facebook and everywhere else. We uncovered a lot of information and miraculously found the location where the car was being repaired. Rusnak Pasadena. According to the repair order, Gritzner himself had turned in the car just hours after the incident. 9:39 AM to be exact. "Yes the car is getting repaired - new bumper, grill and  hood it will be ready by Friday" said the receptionist. 

Just 4 days after the incident, I made my way down to the LAPD Central Division, and turned in the comprehensive evidence Jimenez and I had gathered. Photos, Blog posts, Facebook archives, address, phone number, maps, even video of the car being repaired... "Wow. You did all the work for us." proclaimed the detective on duty. "Sign here please and check back in a couple weeks." By now I wasn't expecting much from the police and to their defense, the men and women of LAPD Central Division work in complete squalor. The station, located in the heart of Skid Row was dark and dingy, the computers were old and there was paperwork stacked everywhere. Our city is broke and it showed. Detective Wilson was eventually assigned to my case and she worked hard - sometimes even on her days off - going out of her way to subpoena crucial evidence from the insurance company. The police report states that Gritzner admitted to hitting me, but sadly the judge ruled that this evidence could not be used against him in court due to "attorney client privilege."

In the end, Gritzner never actually had to set foot in the courtroom. After a ferocious fight through his private attorney, Gritzner plead no contest to one count of misdemeanor hit and run "stipulating to the facts in the case" which meant that he did not dispute the official version of what happened that night and that I could move forward with relative ease in the civil matter. It was a long process to justice, taking  about a year for the criminal side and an additional 6 or 7 months for the civil side. His punishment? A $500 fine and 30 days of Cal Trans clean up. It became clear to me at that point why some people choose to run.

Truth is, we can never know why most hit and run perpetrators leave their victims behind since most are never identified.. but hypothetically speaking, if a driver is drunk, running away pays off. The punishment for hit and run crimes is far weaker than DUI let alone DUI with a collision resulting in bodily harm. When a driver stays at the scene and is found drunk, they usually spend at least one night in jail and have a whole mess of legal issues and expenses to deal with. This alone is enormous incentive to run. I hold he system accountable above all else.

As of this posting the killer of Chatsworth High student German Alex Romero is still at large along with countless other hit and run criminals. Romero will unfortunately not be the last person killed on our streets.



Safe Streets Northridge proudly endorses the "Life Before License" campaign. An initiative put together by Dr. Alex Thompson and Bikeside LA. It calls for the automatic suspension of a driver's license for ANY hit and run crime be it against drivers, cyclists or pedestrians with varying lengths of suspension pending the severity of the damage and injury with death carrying the heaviest punishment. We forget in this car-centric country that driving is a privilege, not a right and judges and the system are far too lenient in the way it treats drivers. This results in a lax atmosphere of accountability on our streets, a recipe for death.

Join me in endorsing the Life Before License campaign. If you know of any group or political figure who can help PLEASE contact myself or Alex Thompson. I will be introducing a motion this Tuesday at the Northridge West Neighborhood Council where I expect unanimous support. Come out and support this very important initiative to make our streets safer.


WHEREAS 32% of all collisions in Los Angeles are hit and run, AND
WHEREAS leaving the scene of a collision is a failure to take responsibility for one’s actions and the safety of others, and therefore demonstrates a tendency to drive unsafely, AND
WHEREAS currently there is not a mandated loss of driving privileges for those convicted of hit and run, AND
WHEREAS judges sentencing convicted hit and runners rarely take away the perpetrator’s driving privileges,
Safe Streets Northridge hereby endorses the Life Before License campaign to change California law so that once convicted of a hit and run, perpetrators will automatically lose all driving privileges, and that the duration of the loss will correspond to the severity of the impact of the hit and run as follows:
  1. A hit and run which results in fatality will result in the loss of driving privileges for 10 years.
  2. A hit and run which results in permanent disability, or causes a life threatening injury will result in the loss of driving privileges for 5 years.
  3. A hit and run which results in injury, but which does not lead to permanent disability or a life threatening injury, will result in the loss of driving privileges for 2 years.
  4. A hit and run which results in the damage of property only will result in the loss of driving privileges for 1 year.

 Dr. Alex Thompson states:
In LA, 32% of all collisions are hit and run [2008 SWITRS data, California Highway Patrol.] In other words, Los Angelinos involved in a collision have a nearly 2 in 5 chance of being left to fend for themselves.  Worse, in those cases where a hit and run perpetrator is caught and convicted, judges rarely take away the convicts driving privileges.  Life Before License, a campaign started by the cycling advocacy organization Bikeside, will seek mandatory loss of driving privileges for convicted hit and run perpetrators.
The cycling community has been a leader in identifying this problem, which is ironic given that cyclists involved in collisions are less likely to be left as victims of hit and run, 23% [LAPD, 2008 SWITRS data analysis], not more likely.  Hit and run is a problem for everyone on our streets.
It’s a problem by definition.  A hit and run perpetrator leaves the scene, and continues to drive.  In leaving the scene they send a signal - they will not take responsibility for their actions, they will not take care of another person in need.  In continuing to drive, they put us all at risk.
Of all the people who we can issue drivers licenses to, aren’t these the worst candidates?  And yet prosecutors have refused to ask for revocation of driving privileges on the basis that they will have difficulty getting to their job, and therefore difficulty paying restitution.  Similarly, judges in the same breath have given the convicted a litany of treatments for driving under the influence, and then done nothing to address the convicted drivers driving privileges.  This is not sane - to put drivers who have demonstrated their lack of respect for life and property behind the wheel again.
So, Life Before License seeks mandatory loss of driving privileges for those convicted of hit and run, to commence at the termination of any related period of incarceration, with the length of loss directly tied to the impact of the convicts hit and run:
1. - fatality --> 10 years
2. - permanent disability or life threatening injury --> 5 years
3. - other injury --> 2 years
4. - property damage only --> 1 year.


    1. Death 25, disability 20, injury 15, property damage 12, Dui is no joke for those who commute!

    2. Death = 25 <- I think even this is lenient

      Disability = 10

      Injury = 2 years *simply because victims can even blow things out of proportion...*

      Property damage = 1 year again, blow things out of proportion

      My vote.

    3. I don't think a hit and run can be blown out of proportion. Any individual that is capable of leaving a fellow man to die so as to avoid a dui deserves much worse repercussions than not being able to drive for x amount of years

    4. Life Before License specifically addresses the area of License suspension. It doesn't replace or take away from laws already in place that punish drivers caught for leaving the scene. as I understand it, A driver who kills someone and leaves is still subject to manslaughter charges. The big issue is that most of the time, a hit and run crime is not subject to license suspension. Just think. A person who runs someone over and leaves them for dead can get through the court system, be punished (lightly) and be driving the entire time. That is scary.

    5. I agree with those above. 25 yrs. for being knowingly negligent behind the wheel of a several thousand pound rapidly moving piece of equipment is lenient. A life taken/ended for 25? That doesn't even begin to touch the loss to a child, spouse, parent, sibling....
      Has human life really become so worthless?

    6. as I understand it, the collision itself is not a crime unless the driver is drunk or it can be shown to be road rage/ intentional / wreckless... the crime occurs when the driver flees the scene... at that point a crime is committed and that is when the license suspension would kick in.

    7. also as I understand it.. if you leave the scene of an accident, you become automatically at fault under CA law no matter the circumstances.

    8. Four people die of hit and run collisions in the USA each day. I have great empathy for the author and for this issue, please don't let me distract from that too much.

      But I would like to assert that often times - even when people are stone cold sober, and remain at the scene after running someone over - people who kill because they were distracted, or they deferred maintenance, etc. get off scott free. The driver's "get out of jail free" card for vehicular homicide of a cyclist/pedestrian is "I didn't see him".

      EVERYONE who injures or kills an innocent, regardless of context, should default to losing their license, permanently. Then they can hire a lawyer, and if they can prove to 90% likelihood that the collision was unavoidable, they might get their license back.

      Driving is a privilege.

    9. Absolutely in favor of this. A friend of mine was hit by a drunk driver who was intentionally aiming for him. The police did as close to nothing as would be presentable. The driver and his friends peeled out from the scene laughing at my friend's crumpled figure and got off scott free. But there were videos, anonymous tips, and plenty of fingers pointing toward the assailant. When questioned, he denied that he did it (shocking, right?). The police did not pursue it. Personally, I think he should have faced an attempted vehicular manslaughter trial at the least. Failing that, he should absolutely not be allowed to drive.
      Another friend was hit just over a year ago. She is still recovering. The driver is still at large.