DALLAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – On average, someone nearly every week in Dallas–Fort Worth is killed by a hit-and-run driver.
The number of deadly hit-and-runs is on the rise in North Texas and the CBS 11 I-Team found the majority of these cases are going unsolved.
According to state crash reports, in the past two years, 91 people were killed in DFW in a hit-and-run crash.
In more than 70 percent of the cases, the drivers who left the scene of the fatal wreck was never caught.
By the time 34-year-old Jacob Waganer’s body was found alongside Interstate 35 in Fort Worth in the early morning hours of April 2, 2016, the driver who struck him was nowhere to be found.
Hours later, Waganer’s mother, Mary Moore, got a knock at her door. A police officer handed her a piece of paper with the phone number on it for her to call the Tarrant County Medical Examiner.
Moore said she’ll never forget that call.
“He gets on the phone and asks me who I am. I tell him I’m Jacob’s mother. He then tells me, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you but earlier this morning your son was killed by a hit-and-run driver.”
Moore then had to break the news to her eight year old granddaughter, Grace, that her father was gone.
“It was horrible,” Moore recalled. “She didn’t know what to do with it, obvious, and I didn’t know what to do with it.”
What Moore said she does know is her granddaughter deserves answers so, for the past 21 months, she has been trying to piece together what happened to her son.
Moore said, to this day, she doesn’t know why her son was riding a bicycle along the side of the interstate at night, who hit him, and the reason the driver never stopped to check on her son.
“I have people tell me that I need to get over it but if you knew how this felt, you wouldn’t ever say that to a person,” Moore said.
At first, Moore said she believed the detectives assigned to the case worked hard to try to solve it but after investigators arrested a man that the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said was the wrong man, Moore said she feels like detectives gave up on the case.
“I’m not out for vengeance. That’s not going to help,” she said. “I just want to know how you could just drive away. How could you just drive away not knowing if that person could have been saved.”
Waganer’s case is not the only hit and run fatality in DFW in the past two years that has gone unsolved.
By looking at state crash reports and local law enforcement records, the CBS 11 I-Team found in the past two years, 65 fatal hit-and-run cases in DFW remain unsolved.
That’s more than 70 percent of all deadly hit and runs.
Why so many?
In some cases, investigators have few clues to go on.
For example, on August, 10, 2017, 21-year-old Braxton Brock was killed while riding his motorcycle by a hit and run driver. So far, all Plano police have to work with is a blurry photo of a white pickup truck. The case remains unsolved.
In other cases, there’s not even that much for investigators to work with.
On March 20, 2017, according to a Dallas County Sheriff’s report, the body of 68-year-old Christa Coleman, a grandmother from Waxahachie, was found on the shoulder of Interstate 20.
The driver who hit and killed her is listed on the report as “unknown.” The section of the report for the driver’s vehicle make and model is blank. The crash report also notes there were no known witnesses.
However, in other cases, there is evidence.
Tia Jackson said investigators know exactly what happened when her 8-year-old daughter, Aja Hill, was hit out in front of her Fort Worth home while riding her scooter.
A neighbor’s security camera on Barron Lane caught the suspect’s car on video.
The Fort Worth Police Department tracked down the vehicle and seized it from the owner.
A police spokesperson told the I-Team the department still has the car in the city’s auto impound, yet, nearly a year after Hill was killed, no arrest has been made in the case.
The Fort Worth Police Department told the I-Team it needs proof of who was behind the wheel.
Former Dallas Police traffic investigator Dudley Marchetti said this is one of the big challenges with solving hit and run cases.
“We are looking for a driver. We are not looking for a car,” he explained. “In other words, we are not putting a car in jail.”
In his 29 years with the Dallas Police Department, Marchetti worked thousands of fatal crashes.
He said catching a hit and run driver can be difficult but added he believes that’s not the main reason so many of these cases remain unsolved.
“It’s a lack of manpower,” he said. “You simply don’t have enough people.”
The Dallas Police Department has nine detectives assigned to its vehicle crime unit. That unit worked on 153 deadly wrecks last year and every hit-and-run case in the city. While fatal crashes are given a higher priority, based on the total caseload, last year each detective averaged 1,600 cases. (Due to each victim being assigned a separate case, Dallas police notes the roughly 15,000 cases in 2017 comes from 10,500 incidents.)
The Fort Worth Police Department has eleven detectives assigned to its traffic investigation unit. The unit worked 93 fatal accidents last year. Each Fort Worth detective is assigned roughly 900 to 1,000 cases a year.
Marchetti said the heavy caseload placed on the traffic officers doesn’t surprise him.
“It’s not a priority,” he said.
Mary Moore said she knows answers in her son’s case won’t bring him back but said finding the answers should matter.
“I just want it to matter,” she said. “He (Jacob) mattered and I want them to treat him like he mattered.”
Anyone with information about a fatal hit-and-run case, can submit a tip to the North Texas Crime Stoppers at 214-373-TIPS or by clicking here.
CBSDFW.COM created a slide show of 65 unsolved hit-and-run cases. Click here to view.