WSP urging drivers to be vigilant of license plates as hit-and-runs on the rise

TUKWILA, Wash. — In a region revered for its rain, Seattle is just as well-known for its congestion.

Which means more collisions and hit-and-run drivers.

The Washington State Patrol says they noticed an increase in hit-and-run collisions across the state.

“Even though we don’t have all the reasons people run away, we do have a way you can help; get as much information from the vehicle as you can, specifically the license plate,” said Trooper Heather Axtman, who’s beginning a project to increase awareness for how people can help catch the driver responsible.

In 2017, WSP reported over 3,000 hit-and-runs that required some type of trooper contact just in King County alone.

This year in King County, there's already been nearly 150.

"It’s a lot," said Trooper Chase Van Cleave, "It's almost 10 a day. It's just under that and so that’s a lot. I mean there are a lot of vehicles traveling in this area so we have a lot of crashes, but hit-and-runs is a choice by somebody to leave the scene of a crash, after it’s happened and that’s the issue."

But far too often—the drivers who cause them are just taking off.

"It's frustrating for the people who are the victims of the hit-and-run because they have a damaged car, sometimes they're hurt and no one to take accountability for that," said Van Cleave.

Susie Hernandez is one of those victims.

"I tried to veer over to the--to the right so I wouldn’t hit the other car and he hit me pretty hard," Hernandez said of the driver who rear-ended her a few months ago in King County.

Hernandez never saw the driver who hit her, or got the license plate number.

"It happened too quick. I'm sure my eyes were shut for awhile so I didn’t get a chance to see him pass by."

That driver, and many others, often get away with it.

"We’re not there to see it happen and so we’re responding and it can be 5, 10, 15 minutes before we get here and that car’s a long ways away," Van Cleave said of some drivers who leave the scene.

That's part of the reason why WSP is making a new pitch, asking drivers involved or who witness a crash to get the license plate number or try to identify the driver.

"If you’re safe and in a position to get the license plate of the running vehicle, that will be the most valuable piece of the puzzle that you can provide us. There are several ways to obtain the license plate; cellphone picture, writing it down, or even telling the 9-1-1 dispatcher. Having a dash-cam mounted in your vehicle also helps capture the needed information," sAxtman in a statement Thursday. "The majority of the time that a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper is provided the license plate of a vehicle that is fleeing, we are able to later track down the suspect and file charges for Hit and Run."

"A dash-cam really does see what we don’t see," echoes Trooper Van Cleave. "It can catch a license plate, sometimes it can catch a really good glimpse of a driver or a vehicle, depending on what happens in that crash."

The idea of having a camera in your car may be unnerving to some drivers… also it may not necessarily be the perfect solution.

"I remember a huge truck in the corner of my left eye and that’s the only thing I remember," said Puyallup Tribal Police Lt. Ben Baker.

State Patrol is still looking for the driver who crashed and injured the off-duty officer last October. That incident was caught on his dash camera, but the driver has yet to be found.