By Sam Hodgson.
A hit-and-run is perhaps one of the most impersonal crimes of all.
A driver strikes a pedestrian or another car. Before learning who they hit, whether they were injured or what they could do to help, the driver flees the scene.
In doing so, they escape from reality, from consequences and from the added guilt of knowing the details of what sort of morbid terror they’ve left in their wake. In some cases, drivers might not even know they’ve struck a person.
Beyond each accident, each medical examiner report, each new statistic, there are stories told by the living, breathing folks who were left behind or who have had to work the scene of the grisly events.
To them, the accident and the crime are deeply personal. They are left not only with the loss of a loved one but, almost universally, with pestering questions about the circumstances that may never be answered.
In audio, words and photos, we compiled some of their thoughts, memories and hopes.
Click on the highlighted text throughout to hear clips of those directly affected by hit-and-runs.
Aaron “Kurtis” Voorheis was walking his roommate’s dog along University Avenue when his life came to an abrupt end.
His official cause of death: blunt force head injuries. But it’s how he sustained those that devastated those close to him.
Kurtis was struck hard enough by a car that when he was found by bystanders in the No. 1 lane of eastbound University Avenue, he was already unresponsive. A lifted black truck was seen driving away from the scene, according to a medical examiner’s report.
His roommate and best friend, Rudy Delgado, didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
In the Hillcrest apartment they shared, Kurtis’ belongings are stacked high in boxes. A long, undulating road is pictured on the side of some of them.
It’s what’s left for Delgado, whose life has been changed in ways that Voorheis’ killer’s has not.
Since then, Delgado has spent many days on the corner of University and Vermont, waving a sign trying to find anyone who might have information on who killed his best friend.
While on that corner, he’s encountered some people who were by Voorheis’ side as he lay in the street. They’ve brought a message to Delgado that provide his only piece of solace: Voorheis didn’t suffer.
And while he almost made it home, he couldn’t get beyond the driveway. That’s where a neighbor discovered him collapsed and, as it would turn out, grasping for life. The family was later told that the lacerations on his elbows and knees indicated that he was hit by a car away from the house and had tried to crawl home.
While the reports of his death and medical condition are detailed – he was pronounced dead in room 2002 of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at Sharp Memorial Hospital after he couldn’t overcome the blunt force trauma to his brain – the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.
His son Jared Jackson had seen him just a week earlier. It was a nice night, but uneventful – just life going on as usual. Jared had no idea it would be the last time he would speak with his father.
Now, Jack’s truck is Jared’s. Complete with a skull on the gear shift, it embodies the biker personality that Jackie embraced.
Jared knows what he would do were he to hit someone with the truck. He would stop. He wonders why others can’t do the same.
To hear her son tell it, Anouchka “Annie” Mihaylova would walk anywhere. A trait she brought from her travels and from her native Bulgaria, Mihaylova would sling a backpack over her shoulder and set out into the world.
She never could have expected that her walk to a Rancho Bernardo restaurant alongside her husband would be her last.
Her son, Boian, was awoken from a nap with a call from an unknown number. A San Diego police officer was on the other end with the news. His parents were involved in an accident. His mother was dead.
After hopping the curb and striking Mihaylova, the driver had sped off, presumably heading for the freeway.
Police soon began searching for a silver Nissan Altima. But over time, and with no perpetrator to turn to for answers, Boian and his father were left asking a simple question: “Why?”
A photo of Boian and his mother together at his college graduation remind him of the role she played at the center of their family. But though their loss was deeply personal, Boian and his father weren’t alone. Mihaylova was an acclaimed researcher, studying the artificial heart at the University of California, San Diego.
Her life’s work was to produce research that could be used to save others. She was struck with such force that no one could save her.
Former San Diego Police Sgt. Art Doherty
During his 32 years in the San Diego Police Department, the past eight in the Traffic Division, Art Doherty has seen it all.
Homicides, DUIs, they’ve all affected him in different ways. Seeing the fallout from an accident is a way of life. Outside the traffic division’s Aero Drive offices is a mangled car – a reminder to visitors of how quickly an accident can happen. Hit-and-runs were common to Doherty and he took pride in trying to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Just a couple days before his retirement in June, Doherty was on the scene of a hit-and-run in Ocean Beach. A woman was seen by a passerby lying in the pickleweed along Nimitz Boulevard. Doherty and his team approached the scene hoping to find a witness or some other leads. They found a skateboard and some car parts left behind.
And there on the ground lay a woman, already deceased for hours.
Doherty does his best to not make it personal when he shows up on a crime scene. But, he says, he can’t help but think about how a driver could live with themselves not taking responsibility.
He and his fellow officers approach traffic accidents from a distance, so as to preserve the integrity of the crime scene.
When he first catches a glimpse of the body at a scene like the one in Ocean Beach, he can’t help but think of his own children. That’s what gets to him, he said. It’s a grisly reminder of how quickly a loved one can be taken.
San Diego Fire Capt. Kevin Lyon
It was already a busy night in North Park for the crew of Fire Station 14 when they got the call. There had been an accident on University Avenue.
San Diego Fire Capt. Kevin Lyon arrived to a chaotic scene. Bystanders were crowding around trying to help and one man was down on the ground, unconscious, next to a motorcycle.
They would learn later that it was Seamus O’Bryan, a 32-year-old who worked at the Old Globe Theatre. He was riding with a friend through North Park. They planned to park his motorcycle and then head to a nearby bar. But he never made it home.
It wasn’t until officials from SDPD arrived that Lyon learned it was a hit-and-run. Several police cars went speeding off toward Interstate 805, on a pursuit that would prove fruitless.
As a fire captain, who has worked incidents like this one for years, he talks about the scene in a sterile, clinical way, almost as if reading from a report.
He truly feels for the victims of hit-and-runs, who are so often just innocently going about their days. But, he said, he can’t let the emotion of a scene seep into his home or professional life.
He does take a lesson, though, from an accident like O’Bryan’s: Life is fleeting.
Originally posted at Voice of San Diego.
Mario Koran contributed to this report.