He was a friend. A brother. A husband. A grandfather.
“He was also a chef,” Yolanda Green-Samuel added recalling fond memories of her brother, Eugene Green, who was killed four years ago in a hit-and-run incident while he was on a bicycle.
She still recalls a conversation she had with local police in Miami Gardens, Florida, one that is seared into her memory.
“[Police said] ‘We have no leads and no answers.’ And at that point I said to him ‘that’s unacceptable.'"
”I was engulfed in pain,” Green-Samuel added.
But she took that pain and channeled it for good. She’s created an organization to help raise awareness and try to decrease the problem of hit-and-run drivers.
She says few people know how much more severe the penalties are when you flee the scene. Prison time for suspects who are caught is becoming more and more common. Samuel-Green wants people to know that more often than not the crash is an accident.
It highlights an issue that only seems to be getting worse, according to statistics.
In 2016—the latest year for which complete data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration exists—there were more hit-and-run fatalities than there have been in the 40-plus years that NHTSA has been keeping track.
There were 2,049 people killed as a result of a hit-and-run 2016. Significant in those numbers: 70% of those deaths were to pedestrians or bicyclists.
Jacob Nelson is a researcher with AAA, which put out a study highlighting the new numbers. He says one of the reasons for the uptick in pedestrian and cyclist deaths could be the simple fact that there are more pedestrians and cyclists on city streets.
“There’s been a huge push from the public health community to get more people outside walking and biking given all the health benefits to doing that,” Nelson said.
But he cautions that cities also need to start looking at putting more barriers between non-motorists and vehicle traffic lanes.
The other factor that could be playing a part: distracted driving.
“That doesn’t matter whether you are a motorist, pedestrian, or a cyclist. You need to pay attention to what’s around you. A lot of these crashes could be prevented in the first place,” Nelson said.
And he joins Green-Samuel in urging any motorist involved in a crash to stay put.
“The element of people leaving the scene of a crash is not only illegal, but motorists need to realize that staying on the scene of a crash is the right thing to do,” Nelson said. “It can help prevent people from being killed and it can lessen the severity of the injuries people sustain if we make sure people get medical care in that first hour.”
Green-Samuel also hopes that through her organization, Just an Accident: Stop Hit-and-Runs, she hopes more people will become aware of the immense power people hold in their hands when driving a vehicle.
“I just don't think people realize the responsibly they take when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle," she said.