DeKalb police officer Jeff Winters was the first to arrive on the scene. He talked to two people who saw the crash, including one who had chased the vehicle as it sped off toward Peace Road.I'm not sure, based on the evidence given in the story, that Officer Winters's conjecture is supportable as a strictly logical argument.
There was debris left behind, including a piece of evidence that would help Winters put it all together: A broken piece of plastic grillwork with the outline of a cougar on it. Like you’d find on a Mercury Cougar.
Winters kept that, along with part of a headlight that had broken off, in his duty bag. He was relatively sure of two things: The driver was local, and they [c.q.] probably wouldn’t repair the damage any time soon.
That's not to say broken parts of cars aren't useful in solving hit-and-run cases. There was one in Oakland County, Michigan, thirty years ago, that the police solved by bringing a piece of trim from a car to the car plant that built the car, and an officer, assisted by a parking lot guard, in the course of looking for the type of car that had that trim, found such a car with precisely the broken trim missing. The driver was duly convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, despite an ingenious legal defense based on the police running the car's plates without a warrant.
The more recent DeKalb case had a more prosaic resolution.
Winters, an 18-year veteran of the DeKalb force, kept his eyes peeled around town for an old Merc. Whenever he spotted one – whether while on duty or even while making an off-duty trip to Walmart – he would check for front-end damage.Presumably, had he found such a car in a parking lot, and run the plate, that Michigan case might also govern. Sometimes, though, careless drivers are habitually careless.
“When you’ve got an accident with a guy on a motorcycle and [a driver] doesn’t stop to see if the person’s OK, it kind of gets you upset,” Winters said. “So I kind of took a personal interest in this one.
“There’s some things, certain cases will drive you to keep looking for more, because you know there is more.”
Then one afternoon in mid-March, Winters saw it. A black, 1993 Mercury Cougar with front-end damage turning from Fairview onto 7th Street, right in front of his squad car.I'm not sure what good it does to suspend the licenses of bad drivers who will continue to drive, badly, without benefit of a valid license, and cause greater havoc in the aftermath of their errors. On the other hand, I'm not sure putting all bad drivers on house arrest, or requiring them to wear tracking devices, is a good use of resources.
Winters stopped the car, explained to the driver what was going on.
“I went to the front of the car, and I’m like, ‘This has got to be it,’ ” he said.
Sure enough, the pieces Winters had kept with him the past three months fit perfectly. The vehicle was impounded. The driver that day didn’t have a license, but she said it was her friend who had been driving when the damage to the car occurred.
The next day, Winters found the woman who had been driving the car Dec. 14.
“Through the investigation, she admitted it was her and she was on her way to pick her friend up,” Winters said. “She was just nervous because she didn’t have insurance and [her license] was suspended, so she panicked and left.”