FHP sends stern message amid rise in hit-and-run crashes

By Jeff Allen and Christina Jensen, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2017, 7:40 PM EST

The Florida Highway Patrol sent a stern message to the public on Thursday amid a spike in deadly hit-and-run crashes.

  • 5 hit-and-run crashes in Central Florida in 2017
  • 31 deadly hit-and-run crashes in 2016, up from 2015
  • FHP investigated more than 99,000 hit-and-run crashes in 2016

Troopers were joined by several families of hit-and-run victims across Central Florida.

Jamie McWilliams said she always wonders what life would be like if her son was still alive.

"Who would he be today as all of his friends are having children?" Williams said. "Would he be married? Would I be a grandmother? I'll never to get experience those kinds of things."

McWilliams said her son, Justin McWilliams, was died in 2002 after he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. The driver never stopped to help, she said.

McWilliams and others who lost loved ones in hit-and-run crashes came together Thursday at Florida Highway Patrol headquarters in Orlando.

FHP has an annual push aimed at reducing hit-and-runs, but the numbers aren't going in the direction troopers would like to see. 

In 2016, FHP investigated more than 99,000 hit-and-run crashes. That number is up from 2015, when there were 92,623 hit-and-run crashes investigated. In Central Florida in 2016, there were 31 deadly hit-and-run crashes compared to 20 in 2015.

"We are at epidemic proportions," McWilliams said. "I've just never after all of these years been able to wrap my head around the fact that someone ran over my child and left them on the ground — and never tried to help him."

Troopers said a 19-year-old driver hit a 14-year-old girl with a stolen pickup truck on Wednesday in Orange County. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Travis Johnson lost control of the vehicle on Dean Road and swerved onto the sidewalk. 

A judge decided Wednesday that Johnson will be held without bond.

McWilliams' message isn't just to drivers. It's also to lawmakers. She's fighting for tougher legislation that would place stricter penalties on people guilty of leaving the scene of a hit-and-run crash.

"If somebody walks in front of you and you run them over, that's not your fault — you've done nothing wrong," McWilliams said. "When you leave the scene, that's a game-changer."

McWilliams hopes one day soon she'll be able to visit her son at his grave and share with him news of tougher laws. 

"When I said goodbye to him, I vowed his life would not be lost in vain, that I would make a difference in his memory," McWilliams said.

Drivers who leave the scene of a crash where someone has died can face up to 30 years in prison.