FLORIDA, Florida — Hit-and-run cases soared last year across the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida, according to Florida Highway Patrol data. Nearly every county saw the highest number of cases on record in 2021.
Crime Tracker 10 looked at the collective data of all the counties 10 Tampa Bay covers and saw cases dropped in 2020 during the pandemic, then heavily increase in 2021. In 2020 there were 18,855 hit-and-run crashes and in 2021, there were 21,920 crashes. (Graphic below)
The majority of those hit-and-runs were in Hillsborough County, which saw 7,321. With the second most cases was Pinellas County with 4,894. In third was Polk County with 3,132. (Graphic with all County data below)
Florida Highway Patrol Spokesperson Steve Gaskins said there are countless reasons why the number of these crashes is rising, but there are two reasons at the front of mind.
"I think because of our growing population and also this mindset that you might not get caught," said Gaskins.
The growing use of technology is helping the Florida Highway Patrol track down the hit-and-run drivers.
"Pretty much every business, most residential houses now have cameras, and if you're out there on a busy highway it's guaranteed someone has some kind of camera phone device," said Gaskins.
However, finding the car involved is just the first step.
"The challenging part is not only finding the car, but who is driving the car," said Gaskins.
Since 2016, each Florida Highway Patrol department had a designated hit-and-run investigator. But with dozens of hit-and-run crashes reported each day in our counties, it would take an army to resolve them all.
"It all comes down to resources and the availability of resources," said Gaskins. "I would love to have a thousand more troopers across the state just for patrol itself, to follow up on their own hit-and-run cases. And yes, we could use more investigators."
Gaskins said Florida Highway Patrol is always hiring.
Meanwhile, drivers are urged to follow the rule we all learned long before we could get a driver's license-- treat people the way you want to be treated.
"Do the right thing and don't leave someone out there on the side of the road injured or dead, because there's a family that cares about them," said Gaskins. "Everyone has somebody and how would you like that to be one of your family members?"
That is a question that Madison Pate can unfortunately answer. Pate's brother, Adam Kaplan of Land O' Lakes, was training for a triathlon and biking hundreds of miles a week.
On a morning bike ride on March 19, Kaplan was traveling southbound on Dale Mabry Highway, in the outside lane, south of US-41, when he was hit by a driver.
The driver fled the crash. Currently, there is no description of the car that struck him, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
"He was hit from behind by a car which then left him there for dead," said Pate.
Adam has been in a coma since the accident.
As the 31-year-old husband and father continue to recover, his family is on a mission to find the driver responsible.
"It's important to me specifically because I care about our community and I hate to think someone who did that to my brother, left him for dead, is still driving our streets," said Pate. "As a human being, I can't see myself doing that to anyone else knowing that they may have a family, knowing they probably have friends.
If empathy itself doesn't urge you to stop your car, consider this. There's a minimum mandatory sentence of four years for leaving the scene of a crash with serious or fatal injuries.
Florida Highway Patrol needs your help to hold hit-and-run drivers accountable.
If you see something, collect as much information as possible, then call *FHP, that's *347.
You can also call Crime Stoppers, **TIPS, in which case you can get cash rewards for tips that lead to arrests.