Gwinnett County police say they don’t have enough evidence to bring hit-and-run charges against the woman who hit Taylor Hamm, 24, with her car Christmas morning, leaving the young woman in a coma. But a local pedestrian advocacy group and Hamm’s distressed parents don’t understand why.
“The excuses that police seem to be accepting to me seem to be incredibly lame,” said Sally Flocks, president and CEO of PEDS, the pedestrian advocacy group that has taken an interest in Hamm’s case.
Lawrenceville police officers found Taylor lying in the middle of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road at about 6:40 a.m. Christmas Day. She had no ID on her and was unconscious. Lawrenceville police called Gwinnett County police to take over the investigation. Hamm was transported to Gwinnett County Medical Center, where she has been in a coma since arriving.
“We’re at the point where we have to decide what she would have liked as far as her quality of life,” said Jeff Hamm, Taylor’s father. “It’s a horrible decision as a parent whether or not to remove your daughter from life support.”
While Lawrenceville police were taking care of Hamm in the middle of that roadway, an 8-months-pregnant employee at Gwinnett Medical Center arrived at work. She didn’t pull into the employee parking lot, swerving instead to the easily accessible ER parking lot before heading into the building.
She was hysterical, according to a 911 call between Lawrenceville and Gwinnett police.
The woman told a security guard on duty at the hospital that she’d hit something that had “lunged” in front of her car on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road. The security guard went outside to check her car and realized the woman may have hit a person.
He called Lawrenceville police. Communication between the two departments solidifies why the guard came to that conclusion.
“There is hair and clothing on the front of the vehicle,” a Lawrenceville police officer told Gwinnett County dispatch over the phone that morning.
She had hit Taylor, the young woman found unconscious in the middle of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road.
Georgia law states that “the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident” that causes severe injury or death needs to “immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of the accident” or at the very least return to the scene after finding a safe place to turn around.
The woman who hit Taylor never returned to the scene. But she hasn’t been charged with hit-and-run.
Jeff Hamm and his wife don’t understand how that can be.
“We’re frustrated by how it’s been handled because in my opinion police have been more sympathetic to the driver than to my 24-year-old daughter,” Jeff said.
Gwinnett Police Cpl. Deon Washington said earlier this week that he sympathizes with the family. The investigation into the incident is ongoing, but so far Washington said the department doesn’t have enough evidence to charge the driver with a hit and run.
“The driver never made any intentions to conceal the fact that she was in an accident,” Washington said. “She immediately traveled to work and reported the fact that she was involved in an accident to authorities.”
Nobody asserts that the driver stopped at the scene — she definitely didn’t, police say. But Washington said she hadn’t felt safe stopping on the dark road, so she drove the two or three miles to the hospital before alerting authorities. Once she got there, Washington said the woman acted quickly.
“As soon as she arrived at the hospital, she didn’t park in the employee parking area,” he said. “She immediately rushed into the hospital and reported to security that she had been involved in an accident.”
Jeff Hamm and Flocks don’t believe that’s a good enough excuse for not stopping on the scene.
“If the comfort issue was about being scared of crime, you lock the doors to your car,” Flocks said. “It was 6:30 a.m. on Christmas, so there was no traffic out there. I don’t know why anybody would be uncomfortable.”
Flocks said she visited the spot where Taylor was hit just this past week and noticed a “very long” right turn lane leading into the back of Moore Middle School about 200 feet away from the scene of the accident.
“That was a very safe place to pull over,” Flocks said.
She said she didn’t understand why the driver couldn’t have stopped there, put on her hazard lights and used a cellphone to call for help.
“Even if she didn’t have a cellphone with her, it’s not an excuse to drive off,” Flocks said. “With her hazards on, somebody probably would pull over and you could ask that person to call.”
But Washington said he couldn’t find fault in the woman’s failure to stop promptly, since she hadn’t even been sure she’d hit a person. He said the road was exceptionally dark so early in the morning and she hadn’t been able to see Taylor.
“There were no crosswalks, there were no streetlights and it was pitch black,” he said. “The driver did not stop because she didn’t know that she actually struck a human being.”
But Flocks said she doesn’t buy that, either.
She concedes the area isn’t well-lit and said she doesn’t fault the driver for accidentally hitting Taylor. But she doesn’t see how the woman wouldn’t have known she hit a person.
“I understand when it’s dark out you may not be able to see something 50 feet ahead,” Flocks said. “But any driver is going to know when something is on their windshield and know whether or not it’s a human being.”
Pictures of the car provided to the Daily Post by the Hamm family show cracks to the left side of windshield.
The timeline of Taylor’s incident remains a bit murky. Washington said she was hit sometime after 6 a.m. and that Lawrenceville police were on the scene around 6:44 a.m.
“The exact timeline is still being confirmed due to Lawrenceville PD responding as well and arriving before Gwinnnett PD,” he said.
But Jeff Hamm wonders if police could have arrived at the scene even sooner if the driver had called for help immediately after hitting his daughter. He wonders whether Taylor would be conscious now if that had happened.
“We truly believe that if the driver had alerted somebody on the scene it could have made all the difference in the world,” Jeff Hamm said. “She’s basically on life support and she’s been that way for three weeks.”
Flocks was also disturbed by Taylor’s condition, but she worried this case may have implications beyond the suffering young girl. She said it might leave a message to other drivers that it’s OK to drive away after hitting somebody, as long as the authorities are notified eventually.
“It’s not just an issue of justice,” she said. “If the county is unwilling to press charges, they’re basically waving it off.”
She said that could exacerbate an issue Gwinnett County already has with pedestrian safety. Flocks pointed out that Gwinnett has the fourth-highest number of pedestrian fatalities of any county in the state. She said one out of five pedestrian fatalities results from a hit and run.
From 2011 to 2013, 53 pedestrians were killed in Gwinnett County.
“This year may be even worse,” Flocks wrote in an email to Gwinnett Police Chief Butch Ayers on Friday. “We’re less than three weeks into 2017, and already four of the eight pedestrian fatalities in Georgia occurred in Gwinnett County.”
She said delays in calling authorities to a scene can only inflate that number.
But Washington says Gwinnett police can’t charge the driver in Taylor’s case with anything at this point. He said the investigation will be turned over the the District Attorney’s office for review once it’s finished — but he’s not sure when that will be, yet.
“We sympathize with the Hamm family who’s dealing with this horrific situation,” Washington said.
Jeff Hamm said he and his family don’t feel that sympathy.
“We’re not going to rest until we get justice in some way or form,” he said.