An incident that recently took place in the Salt Lake City suburb of South Jordan should remind all motorists that certain driving behaviors aren’t simply courteous and polite, they’re also the law. This includes leaving the scene of an accident, even when that accident is as small as bumping into a parked car and involves no injury.
When even minor property damage is caused, the driver is required to exchange contact and insurance information with the other owner. When the owner isn’t available, as in the case of many parked cars, the offending driver is required to leave this information conspicuously placed at the damaged vehicle or report the damage to police.
In this case, the incident took a strange turn when the offending driver—Jeff Haaga, a city councilman from neighboring West Jordan—left the scene after backing into a parked car. He had just left a bar, and witnesses expressed the opinion that he was drunk at the time. In fact, several other men took his car keys away, but Haaga had a spare set with him.
Because he had been identified by witnesses, police went to Haaga’s home to issue him a citation for leaving the scene. This interaction, in which Haaga admitted to hitting a car and then admitted (after first denying) that he’d driven himself home after drinking, was caught on police video. He told the police that they had no authority and that his elected office “protected” him from charges.
These statements and actions have led to numerous calls for Haaga’s resignation or ouster, and spurred West Jordan to pass a new code of conduct for elected officials, which the Mayor says had already been in the works. Haaga has since pleaded not guilty to leaving the scene.
Since at least 2009, Utah has been noted as having possibly the weakest hit-and-run law in the United States. Some feel that with the way the law is written and enforced, it’s actually to the benefit of an alcohol- or chemically impaired driver to flee the scene. This is because when a driver is found at the scene to be operating under the influence, a felony charge can be made. However, if a driver flees the scene, sobers up, and is then caught or turns himself in, the OUI charges won’t apply, and Utah’s statute treats a hit-and-run as only a misdemeanor.
Haaga’s fender bender is minor by comparison to many hit-and-runs. Early on the morning of August 13, a man was found dead in the middle of North Temple Street, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run. This outcome is all too common. In 2013, 551 injuries and twelve deaths were attributed to hit-and-run drivers in Utah. The victim of the North Temple crash was later identified as Philip Aguto, a Sudanese immigrant who fled that country’s civil war in the early 1990s. The driver who hit Aguto has still not been located.
If you’ve been the victim of a car crash, whether as a pedestrian, a driver, or passenger, you have the right to recover compensation for the damages caused. Whether you were injured or only property damage was caused, the driver responsible for the harm should be held accountable. Fortunately, we can help.
The lawyers at Craig Swapp & Associates have a great deal of experience with automobile accident law. We offer a free consultation to hear your case and help you understand what can happen next. Give us a call at 1-800-404-9000 or complete our contact form below to schedule a meeting. You can also launch the LiveChat feature from any page of this website to receive answers to some of your questions.