Getting Results on Crime: Hit-and-runs

Sgt. Josh Buday sits in an office at Orlando's FHP headquarters between piles of paperwork and with a picture of a wrecked motorcycle above him. Surrounding him are the most serious and toughest-to-solve case files from Orange, Osceola, and Lake Counties.

"We are probably the busiest area in the State of Florida for traffic crashes and specifically hit-and-run crashes," said Buday.

FHP said on average 25-40 hit-and-run crashes are reported each day in Central Florida Troop D.

To combat the problem, Troop D took 2 troopers off routine patrol and dedicated them entirely to solving serious crashes, fatal crashes, and hit-and-runs. Sgt. Buday is one of them.

"We work nights, weekends, holidays, sometimes 12 hours a day," said Sgt. Buday. "If you leave the scene of the crash and we find your vehicle, you leave something behind. I'm gonna find it."

When Sgt. Buday isn't in his office, he's visiting hardware stores, car dealerships, bars and convenience stores, and junkyards among other places.

He works to identify the make, model, and color of a car that left the scene by the pieces left behind.

He checks with dealerships to see if a suspect purchased replacement parts.

He subpoenas phone records to review messages a suspected driver sent in the minutes and hours after a crash.

He visits stores to determine what types of materials a suspect may have purchased to destroy evidence.

He speaks with bartenders or clerks to determine how much alcohol was served or purchased before a crash.

And all of that takes time - days, weeks, months.

"Lots and lots of man-hours," said Sgt. Buday.

Buday must ultimately prove in court, using DNA, surveillance video, records, and witnesses, that a suspect was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.

Already this year, on top of the other cases solved by other investigators, Sgt. Buday alone has solved 15 of the most difficult cases. Last year, he made 30 arrests.

Not all cases will be solved, Buday admitted, but insisted that most will.

"You may get away for a week, maybe 2 weeks or a month, but I'm gonna find you," said Sgt. Buday. "And we're gonna arrest you."

Buday said leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality is always worse than staying, especially if it's not your fault.

Florida law calls for a mandatory minimum 4-year prison sentence for a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a crash involving a death - regardless if that driver is at fault.

A drunk driver who accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian but stays at the scene cannot be charged with DUI manslaughter, said Buday.

He said staying at the scene, calling for help, and giving the victim a chance at survival is also the humane thing to do.

Penalities are listed here.

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