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Yesterday, On The Phone With My Hit-And-Run Driver
Yes, it's me again, late December's one-woman anti-crime wave.

Last year at this time, a guy did a hit-and-run on my then almost-brand-new Honda Insight, which was parked in the Whole Foods parking garage on Wilshire and 21st. He didn't just graze my car, either. He hit it at such an angle that his progress into the space next to it was impeded, then he backed up so he could finally pull into the space. Next, he got out of his car, looked at the damage on my car...looked to see if anyone was looking!...and strolled into the store and went shopping!

Very bad idea. Three problems, all of them his:

1. They have video cameras in the garage.
2. He has an easy-to-remember personalized license plate.
3. He hit my car.

Naturally, I tracked him down and had him thanks to the police (sigh). In Santa Monica, they actually send out a letter to the hit-and-run suspects, saying, "Hey, did you hit somebody's car?" What do they think people are going to say, "Yep, cuff me?" As the SM Police officer on my case said, "He says he didn't do it." Um, yeah. (Details on my detective work will follow after I get to play amateur Clarence Darrow in small claims.)

In brief, it took me considerable time and energy, but not only did he deserve to be prosecuted, I wasn't about to pay a potentially non-refundable $500 deductible on my insurance because some slimebag hit me -- especially since I can't be sure what kind of detective work they do, and I know the kind I do.

Let's just say I know a lot about the guy -- down to which magazines his wife collects (she reportedly has every single copy of a particular magazine), and the names and addresses of his grown children. I've sent a letter to the guy's son, and called the guy myself yesterday -- (one of the suggested) terms of filing in small claims court -- to see if he'd settle. When I told the guy he could either settle or... "I'm going to sue you in small claims court for the time I put in tracking you down"...

He said: We're going to sue you.

Me: I didn't do anything wrong.

He: We're gonna sue you for suing. Have your lawyer tell you how that works.

Me: You can't have a lawyer in small claims court...slimeball!

Oh, never mind. See you there!

What's most amazing is, the guy already saw how I doggedly tracked his ass down...all the way to a guilty plea before Judge Kamins in Santa Monica Court out by the airport. Kamins commended me for my detective work, and said the guy wouldn't have been brought to justice but for my efforts. "You should be a detective or a writer" is, I believe, how he put it. Unfortunately, I think he read the statute wrong in not giving me the money for the time I spent doing the police's job for them -- time I would have otherwise spent writing. Hence, my small claims suit.

My determination to file is also colored by the fact that the guy, to this day, shows no remorse for hitting my car and driving off. Amazing. In fact, in court, he scowled at me like I had somehow wronged him. Hey, hit my car!

What's funny is, I hadn't thought about trying to squeeze cash out of the guy until the lawyer the guy's son engaged for him tried to pay me off in exchange for dropping the criminal case against him. No dice, dude. In fact, the main point here, apart from getting my car fixed, was sending a message. In a world where people are increasingly rude and oblivious to anybody but themselves...even if you are unethical, don't be unethical, because you might be somebody like ME!


Posted by aalkon at December 31, 2005 1:11 AM

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Amy, as I applaud your personal effort, I must note that this happens constantly. There are thousands of cases like yours, up to and including home invasions and personal injury, which go unprosecuted.

Many people have the idea that the police are required to help you, but that's not true. Look up Warren v. DC.

There was no action you could have taken to prevent the incident here - but be sure that you are not counting on random chance to protect other assets of yours which may be lost.

Posted by: Radwaste at December 31, 2005 5:57 AM

Dumbass just doesn't get it. Unfortunately, there are people like that all the time. I can't imagine what was going through his mind, and why he was scowling at you... "Stupid bitch! Why can't you just let it go?"

What an ass.

Have you ever thought of sending him the url to your blog, so he can actually see what an ass everything thinks he is?

I'd like to tell him I think he's an asshole.

Posted by: Patrick at December 31, 2005 6:36 AM

Amy -

Doesn't sound like you were worried about this, but fyi - you can't sue someone for suing you. Unfettered access to the judicial system is one of the underlying tenents of the First Amendment and highly protected. If one does file a frivolous suit, the correct remedy (assuming defendant is exonerated) is for defendant to file a suit for malicious prosecution. But this can't happen until a disposition of the original suit.

Good Luck!

Posted by: snakeman99 at December 31, 2005 10:15 AM

Thanks, Snake...I know that. I laughed.

But, somebody did file a malicious restraining order against me -- it's a SLAPP violation, actually -- because I was acting on behalf of my neighborhood, complaining about a business taking up residential parking. I'm going to start looking for a lawyer to take the case -- if you know anyone.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 31, 2005 10:40 AM

Darn. I was really looking forward to seeing this on the People's Court. How did you find out about the magazines his wife collects?

Posted by: bev at December 31, 2005 11:08 AM

I let my fingers do the walking! A lot of work went into this whole thing, actually, starting with the fact that Whole Foods said there was nothing on the tape initially. It turned out that the manager on duty didn't know how to run the machine or something, so he just said there was nothing on it. When I said I wanted to see for myself, that manager said it wasn't their policy! This then led to a whole campaign to get WF to release the tape -- through their corporate offices and a woman named Lourdes. Finally, the regular manager, who was great, got on the case and was very nice about it...their tech person at that WF was particularly great, helping us when we had trouble getting the tape into a readable format for our computers.

Most weirdly, I saw the guy eating at Rocca the night we picked up the tape, but wasn't sure it was him until the next day when we finally got it transferred so it could be seen on a Mac. Also, I'd had a medical thing done and I was kind of not myself, or I would have gone over and asked him, "Are you the (name on his license plate)"?...and saved myself a lot of running through what I thought was his neighborhood and looking for his car.

Based on seeing the guy at Rocca on Fourth St, across from Border Grill, and the fact that he shopped at WF on Wilshire at 21st, I was able to estimate where he lived -- in the square between Colorado and Montana and Ocean and Lincoln, and guess what, I was right! He actually lives right around the corner from the police station! No, his address isn't listed, but it was either typing his phone number (which I got from Google maps or Yahoo maps). To find out his identity at all, I sent a request in to the DMV, noting that the owner of the plate was a suspect in a hit-and-run of my car. Just finding out how to do that and filling out the paperwork, etc, took work -- hence my notion that I should be compensated for the considerable time I put into this - including having to take my car in to be estimated, pick up and return rental cars, fight with the insurance company, take my car to be fixed, take my car to be refixed after they screwed it up, etc.

Regarding People's Court: I'm actually going to see if they want it for Judge Judy because I'm a big fan of hers and would love to be on her show. A producer from there was interested previously, but said I'd have to file first, then they approach the defendant and ask if they want to be on...if they are still interested!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 31, 2005 11:52 AM

I'm seeing a rebirth of the "Death Wish" franchise here.

Posted by: Rodger Jacobs at December 31, 2005 12:04 PM

As a libertarian, I only want to take wrongdoers money, not their lives.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 31, 2005 1:02 PM

You should work this up into an article. And also, be sure to sue in Small Claims for the maximum allowable, I think $5000 now.

But why be so secretive about the guy's name, address, ph#, and names of wife and grown kids etc and where he works? He deserves no protection from embarrassment.

What was his explanation about why he shouldn't be bothered about this? Did he actually have some sort of reason?

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at December 31, 2005 3:42 PM

He had no explanation, and showed no remorse. In fact, he seemed rather angry I was bothering him the other day! I'm holding back on his name until I write the whole story -- after the court case. I'm suing for just under $5,000, but it is the actual amount of time I put into it. I wrote to his son in August not only about the money but asking him to see if his dad is safe enough to be on the road. I thought the police had checked that out, but it occurred to me that maybe they were as lax about that as everything else.

I called the officer on the case and left a message on Friday (he was not in the habit of calling me back when the case was on, either) to see if they'd checked out the guy's ability to drive. If I don't hear from him on Monday, I'm going to contact somebody else at the station.

This guy and his family can do what they want, but you'd think after his initial interaction with me, they'd give me a couple thousand dollars to go away. If I were up against me, I'd think it was a real bargain!

Again, if the guy had just shown remorse at some point, I might not have such a jones for justice now. But the way he glanced at the damage on my car and just went into the store, and his reaction in court -- like I was the criminal! -- well, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. Amy Alkon, human Rottweiler on the case!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 31, 2005 4:04 PM

Uh-oh. Now Cathy's steamed. This guy's toast and we're all about to learn what magazines his wife subscribes to.

Posted by: Rodger Jacobs at December 31, 2005 4:05 PM

how do you know that it was him or that you didn't get the plate correct but instead got someone innocent in trouble? what if he lent his car to someone? you couldn't prove it was the owner of the car in question, right? I mean without the camera evidence. Isn't it your word against theirs? Hypothetically speaking. Didn't you have uninsured motorist coverage? what if he denies it and /or he's got no liability insurance? what would happen in a case like this?

Posted by: gg at July 18, 2007 12:56 AM

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