FLORIDA, Florida — Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) reports an increase in hit-and-run crashes across the state.
"As our population grows, as well as the number of visitors who come to the state of Florida, we have more traffic out on the state's highways as you can imagine," explained Sgt. Steve Gaskins, public information officer for the Florida Highway Patrol.
He says that traffic has led to more crashes, and more drivers failing to stop after those crashes.
According to FHP, in 2021, there were 108,155 reported hit-and-run crashes in the state of Florida. That's a 17 percent increase from 2020. Of those crashes, there were 304 fatalities, an 18 percent increase from 2020. There were also more than 1,100 serious injuries, an increase of 20 percent from 2020.
In 2021, drivers left the scene of a crash roughly one-quarter of the time, according to FHP.
"That's just unacceptable," remarked Gaskins.
One St. Petersburg woman understands the pain caused by these crashes. Kearra Nucup has been devastated by the loss of her fiancé, 23-year-old Kris Simington, in a hit-and-run crash on Jan. 30.
She describes him saying, "He was smart and very kind and very silly, he made everybody smile."
She says the two of them had big plans. They'd just moved in together, and Kris had dreams of going back to school to study physics or biomechanics.
But, those dreams were shattered when in the early morning hours last Sunday, Kris was struck and killed in a hit-and-run crash.
Police say Kris was riding an electric scooter on 66th St N., near 51st Ave N. in St. Petersburg when he fell into the roadway and was hit. It happened just after 3 a.m. Police are now searching for a white truck that was caught on a businesses security camera.
In Florida, drivers face a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison for leaving the scene of a crash that results in a death.
Sergeant Gaskins said, "No one likes to be involved in a crash, but you take a bad situation like a crash and you make it that much worse by leaving the scene."
According to Gaskins, metro areas see the most hit-and-run crashes.
"Every county in the state experiences this," he explained. "A metro area like Tampa, Orlando and Miami, there are just more people so there are more crashes, and by the numbers, you're going to have more people leaving the scene."
In order to draw attention to this alarming trend, FHP has launched a 'Stay at the Scene' campaign. Its main goal is to warn drivers of the criminal risk they face by leaving a crash.
"When you’re involved in a crash like this, any crash, you don’t leave the scene. We don’t leave people injured or hurt on the side of the road," said Gaskins. "You’re required by law—stop, remain there, provide your information to law enforcement or the other drivers. And of course, if someone’s hurt, call 9-1-1."
Another goal of the 'Stay at the Scene' campaign is to inform eyewitnesses about how they can help law enforcement solve hit-and-run crashes.
"If you see something, say something," said Gaskins. "Be a good witness because that little piece of information may help. Everyone seems to have a phone now, so take a picture, take a video, and send it to Highway Patrol."
If you have information to report on a hit-and-run crash, you can call *FHP or contact Crime Stoppers at **TIPS. In the case of a deadly crash, in which the driver faces a felony charge, reporting a tip to Crime Stoppers may entitle someone to a cash reward.