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No one helping St. Petersburg police try to solve hit-and-run

ST. PETERSBURG — The most violent crimes can also be the hardest to solve. Detectives struggle to get that one lead, that one tip, that can break open a shooting or stabbing. Fear is part of the problem, especially the street code of "no snitching" to the police.

But Mike Jockers has never had that problem. The veteran St. Petersburg officer investigates the city's worst traffic incidents. In 10 years on the job, he's always had help solving the crimes on his beat.

For some reason the rules are different when someone is hurt or killed in a car crash. People want to help the police.

Until now.

Shirley Anne Lavine was crossing 16th Street S in her motorized wheelchair on Dec. 8 when a vehicle struck her about 9:47 p.m., then sped away.

Ten days later, she remains in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.

Ten days later, police still have no tips, no leads, nothing that could help lead them to whoever ran the 55-year-old woman down.

"For the first time ever, I have not gotten a phone call, a tip, a lead, a nudge-nudge, wink-wink," Jockers said. "We have gotten absolutely nothing. It's kind of disheartening.

"I've handled hundreds of serious-injury crashes, but I've never had anything like this."

• • •

The silence started as soon as police arrived.

A crowd had gathered after the hit-and-run. But witnesses either held back from police or didn't have much to offer anyway. Many wouldn't even identify themselves.

"I can't force them to give me their names," Jockers said.

Here's what they told police: The suspect vehicle appeared to be a Honda Accord or Nissan Maxima or a similar mid-sized import. They said it was light-colored, either white, tan or beige.

One witness said the right-front headlight was knocked out, though there was no evidence it was shattered in the crash.

Police did find one clue: a fragment of a metal Loyola University license plate frame that police believe broke off the suspect vehicle's front end.

Police tried calling alumni associations, but Jockers said there are too many Loyolas for that clue to be useful.

None of the witnesses could, or would, describe anyone inside the vehicle. They couldn't describe the driver. They couldn't say if there were passengers.

• • •

Still, that doesn't mean someone out there can't help police. All it takes is one anonymous tip. Maybe someone who overheard a key piece of information. Or someone who spotted the suspect vehicle.

A name, an address, even a few letters or numbers from the license tag is all police need to find the vehicle and the driver.

"For nobody to step up and say, 'I saw it, I heard it, I heard where the vehicle is,' even anonymously, there's no reason for that," Jockers said. "It's beyond comprehension. I'm frustrated, truly. I don't believe that it is the 'no snitching' thing going on.

"But I just don't now why anybody wouldn't come forward."

Especially considering the circumstances. Police said that Lavine was doing everything right when she was hit. She used the crosswalk in a well-lit area and had her own flashlight.

But the accident scene indicated that the driver who hit her was hardly as cautious. Lavine was likely struck by a distracted or impaired driver, Jockers said.

The accident report shows that Lavine was struck as she cut west across southbound 16th Street at the 13th Avenue S intersection.

The side of her wheelchair was hit by the front end of the suspect vehicle just as she reached the line dividing the two lanes.

That means the suspect wasn't driving in either the inside or outside lane at the moment of impact — the car was straddling both.

• • •

Lavine has been in critical condition since the hit-and-run. She suffered extensive injuries and underwent surgery.

She's still in Bayfront's Neuro Intensive Care unit. She was placed in a medically induced coma. Her family could not be reached.

"People knew her, people liked her," Jockers said. "You'd think somebody would come forward with something."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

. Fast facts

How to help

The vehicle suspected of hitting Shirley Anne Lavine's wheelchair on Dec. 8 is described as a Honda Accord or a Nissan Maxima or a similar import. It may be light-colored, white or beige, and the right headlight may be out. It had a metal Loyola University license plate frame affixed to the front end that broke in the crash. St. Petersburg police ask anyone with information about this incident to call (727) 892-5000 or to text police at (727) 420-8911 .

No one helping St. Petersburg police try to solve hit-and-run 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:41pm]

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