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Aug 21, 2013 1:00 AM by Danielle Lerner

Pima County hit-and-run cases involving pedestrians rarely go to trial

TUCSON - In the past three years 75 percent of hit-and-run cases involving pedestrians in Pima County have ended in plea deals.

That number has some of the victims' family members questioning the judicial process and calling for harsher sentences.

News 4 Tucson's Danielle Lerner took their concerns to the Pima County Attorney's Office to get some answers.

Since September 2010, 8 hit-and-run cases involving pedestrians have gone through the court system.

Six involved plea deals.

The most recent case resolved on Monday when 24-year-old Andrew Perez was sentenced to 100 days behind bars and three years probation in the death of 22-year-old Jacob Wyckoff.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in physical injury.

Jacob's mother told News 4 she was too sickened by the sentence to talk about it.

"I know saying I'm sorry is not enough, nor will it ever be, but it will never leave me."

Three days earlier a tearful Denise Torres apologized for the January hit-and-run accident that killed 17-year-old Ruby Martinez.

She too pleaded guilty to a lesser charge...something that didn't sit well with Ruby's loved ones.

"He should be treated as guilty and she should be spending time in jail like she deserves for killing somebody, that's what we all believe."

The chief criminal deputy says it's not unusual for criminal cases to end in plea deals, in fact most don't ever make it to trial.

However, she says hit and runs are especially difficult given the unique challenges they present.

"Generally, at a minimum, the state would have to prove some sort of negligence or criminal recklessness," Chief Criminal Deputy Kellie Johnson said. "When they leave the scene and don't stay we simply can't get that evidence because they're not there."

One hit-and-run case from September 2010 did go to trial.

Augustine Ortiz was charged with driving a van that pushed a parked car into 2-year-old Katiza Flores killing the toddler. A jury found the 43 year old "not guilty."

"We recognize the traumatic impact that these cases have on victims and their families and we do all we can to hold offenders accountable to the fullest extent we can," said Johnson. "If however the evidence is such where we believe there is a risk of either a lesser conviction or no conviction at all, we may consider a plea agreement."

The man accused in the May hit-and-run death of a Sun Tran driver returns to court September 9 for a status conference. Twentyfour-year-old Enrique Hernandez has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including manslaughter and driving under the influence.


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