Behind the scenes of hit-and-run investigations

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — News 4 went inside the minds of hit-and-run investigators to find out how they solve the crimes. Investigators who work those cases said they can be very difficult to solve.

Five hit-and-runs have been reported in Buffalo since May. Three of those were deadly, and one seriously hurt a 7-year-old boy. The crashes have put more pressure than ever on investigators to find closure for the victims’ families.

“He loved to walk,” Bryant Ziegler, nephew of hit-and-run victim Arthur Redrick, said. Redrick, 60, was hit and killed by a car on Bailey Avenue in May. Ziegler said he was walking to the store near his house. Surveillance video shows he tried to get out of the way of a speeding SUV.

“He didn’t have a chance. The car was going [around] 80 miles per hour. He had no chance to even stop,” Ziegler said.

The person responsible drove away. The camera at a nearby store helped Buffalo Police find the car they think was involved. They found a white, four door SUV about a mile from the crash more than three weeks ago.
“If they can find the driver, we can stop [someone] else getting hurt,” Ziegler said.

That’s where senior investigator Scott Lawida with the Amherst Police Department comes in.

“I’ve kind of gotten a reputation for solving hit-and-runs,” Lawida said.

He’s worked on traffic investigations for 16 years, tracking down hit-and-run drivers not just in Amherst, but all around Western New York.

“Other police departments call and ask for help on hit and runs because they know I have this network of people to help out,” Lawida said.

That work starts at the scene, searching for witnesses, evidence and pieces left behind.

“The smallest part can be the most important part. Right down to a small clip. It will tell us what kind of car it is,” Lawida said.

A room of car parts is just a small picture of many past investigations Lawida’s worked on, including everything from minor side swipes to deadly cases. Each leaves behind its own clue of the car involved.

Lawida said some cases are more difficult, like the deadly hit-and-run in Wheatfield that killed 16-year-old Ryan Fischer in 2014. Lawida said he was trying to match a piece of a headlight in the case. It took more than six weeks to solve.

“We put so much time into that case, but I knew we would find it. We had the piece,” he said.

Lawida doesn’t do it alone. He works with a network of people at collision shops, dealerships and other police departments. He takes pieces around until he finds a match.

“It basically takes a village to solve these hit-and-runs,” he said.

Investigators said video is one of the best pieces of evidence they can get. It’s what helped find the suspected car in Arthur Redrick’s case.

“That was very good video. The quality was very good. We were able to determine from that video the make and model,” Keith LaFalce, an accident investigator with the Buffalo Police Department, said.

LaFalce has had his hands full investigating the five recent hit-and-runs. He said his job is not done even once the car is found.

“A lot of times the registered owner of that vehicle will not cooperate. It will require us to get search warrants to get any valuable evidence in the vehicle or on the vehicle,” LaFalce said.

LaFalce said it can take weeks or even months to make an arrest.

“It’s not necessarily how fast you build it. You want to build a strong case and rightfully prosecute the right individual,” he said

Even with all that work, some cases are never solved. Some families never find closure. Arthur Redrick’s family hopes his is not one of them.

“I pray every day. This is a guy that I miss and a guy that I will never see again,” Zeigler said.

LaFalce said there is no known reason for the increase in hit-and-runs this summer.

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