We Should Be Calling Hit-and-Run Accidents What They Are: Homicides

Hit-and-Run Accidents“I would tell his family that I feel their pain. I didn’t know him, but I felt awful seeing him bloody on the ground.”

This is what Yésica González told the Chicago Sun Times about finding Charles “Charlie” Mills, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Sunday. She was driving on Pulaski when a speeding driver cut her off; not long after, that same driver hit Charlie Mills as Mills crossed the street. She stayed with Charlie until the paramedics came. Later, she told the paper that “she can still picture how [he] looked on the ground,” and that “she’s never experienced anything so disturbing.”

We keep thinking about that. Not only are his family members and students grieving, but this woman – a total stranger – now has that image in her head.

We want all of them to find peace, but we also want them to have justice. Justice can be hard to come by in a hit-and-run crash; And we’re starting to think that maybe it’s time we stop talking about hit-and-run crashes as “accidents,” and start calling them what they are: reckless homicides.

Isn’t a hit-and-run already a crime?

It is. And the local cops who investigated the deadly hit and run did so as a homicide, per the Chicago Sun Times. It was the coroner who ruled the death was officially an “accident” in the autopsy report.

Under Illinois law, a deadly hit-and-run is a form of reckless homicide, and therefore a Class 3 felony. We’re not defense lawyers nor prosecutors, but it seems that anyone speeding and engaging in aggressive, dangerous driving ought to know that they may kill someone, or at least put others in real danger (“he or she knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another”), which is actually the statutory language found in the description of first-degree murder. If you want to split hairs about the “knowing” part, at least make it felony murder: hitting someone with a vehicle while you’re speeding and driving aggressively seems like felony behavior to us.

How we talk about hit-and-runs matters

Hit-and-runs are, in our opinion, a different type of collision than, say, a rear-end crash or even a multi-car pileup. Those types of car accidents can be caused by many different factors: distracted drivers, failed brakes or tires, poor weather conditions, unsafe roadways, and so forth. The degree of fault can change, and that’s why insurance negotiations can be so challenging. Eventually, though, those negotiations reach a point of conclusion, or they go on to trial where a jury decides which driver was at-fault.

In a hit-and-run, there’s only one at-fault driver, and that coward fled the scene (also a crime). There’s no extenuating circumstance here. Even if the hit-and-run was the result of an icy road and the driver could not avoid it, leaving the scene is certainly a choice. So, too, is speeding, crossing over medians, and cutting off other drivers – all choices the driver who killed Charlie Mills appears to have made.

Perhaps more important is this: there were about 18,450 homicides in America in 2023, a pretty big drop from 2022. And the reasons for that drop are varied, of course, but they get constant airplay. Heck, even other states talk about Chicago’s “violent crime problem,” even though our 2024 numbers are lower, too. So when EVERYONE’s talking about homicide rates and kicking up a fuss and devoting time and resources – so many resources – to reducing those numbers, it makes sense that they’ll drop.

However, if you try to search “how many hit-and-runs in American in 2023,” you can’t get an answer. You can’t even get a straight answer about how many hit-and-runs there were in Illinois; after all, not all hit-and-runs are deadly, and not all of them are even reported. On average, we think Chicago has about 100 hit-and-run crashes each day. In the first half of 2022, there were almost 19,000 in our city. Nobody’s talking about hit-and-runs with the same intensity. Local news stations and affiliates talk about the spike in numbers, but you don’t see cable news pundits banging on about the hit-and-run crisis, even though they happen every single day in every single state in this country and kill thousands of people each year.

But maybe we would if we stopped calling them “hit-and-run accidents” and started calling them “hit-and-run homicides” instead. Maybe we’d see our local and federal representatives taking to the floor of the General Assembly or Congress and decrying the scourge of hit-and-runs if we stopped talking about them like any car crash and started insisting that others refer them as murders or manslaughters. Maybe if we did, we’d get some resources to stop them, and Chicago Police would have a higher arrest rate than .3% (2.3% in cases where someone was hurt or killed).

Once again, we find ourselves sick over the senseless loss of life, and heartbroken for our community. We didn’t know Charlies Mills, but we mourn his loss like we mourn all the others. And we hope that his family gets justice.

Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers serves clients in and around Chicagoland. If you need us, we’d like to help you, too. To schedule a free consultation with a Chicago car accident lawyer, please call us or fill out our contact form.