Left for Dead: NBC 5 Suing Over Public Records in Hit-and-Run Crashes

For over a year, NBC 5 Investigates has been reporting on the shocking number of hit-and-run crashes across Chicago: more than 31,000 so far this year, killing 25 people and injuring over 4,100 others. Now, NBC 5 is taking multiple agencies to court over public records requests that have been denied. Of the more than 37,000 hit-and-runs the city saw in 2021, Chicago police made just 95 arrests, data shows, for an arrest rate of 0.3%: more than 25 times lower than that of Los Angeles. Some of the most serious cases in recent years appear to have seemingly obvious leads – a vehicle left behind, surveillance footage and more – but have languished without justice. Linda Mensch was killed in a hit-and-run crash while leaving the Garfield Park Conservatory in August 2021. Investigators quickly released a photo of the van that hit her as well as its license plate. But for reasons Chicago police refuse to explain – they would not even question the vehicle’s registered owner. It’s a pattern found in case after case and crash after crash. Angel Bucio’s 12-year-old son was killed just days before Christmas two years ago. Sebastian Taylor lost his wife and infant child in June 2021. Agata Jagielski’s mother was fatally struck in a crosswalk 14 months ago. There have still been no arrests in any of these crashes. NBC 5 Investigates filed dozens of public records requests to understand why these and other cases have seemingly stalled. Some of those requests have been repeatedly denied, with agencies citing exemptions to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act in their rejections. Now, NBC 5 is suing to get those records – and some answers. “The city of Chicago doesn’t like people looking into what they’re up to, especially when what they’re up to is not solving crimes,” said attorney Matt Topic, who’s representing NBC 5 in six lawsuits against city and state agencies over records and evidence in multiple fatal hit-and-runs. “The taxpayers ought to know whether the police department is diligently investigating these crimes, whether they’re doing a good job of it. And the fact that they’re not solved doesn’t speak well of the police department, and I think they ought to answer that and provide an explanation of what’s going on in these investigations,” Topic said. “Are they paying enough attention to them? Are they working hard enough? Is it enough of a priority?” In many of these cases, victims have also repeatedly said they too feel as though police have left them in the dark – about their own tragedies. “It’s unconscionable that people who are the victims of crimes cannot get information from the police department about whether they’re investigating and what’s going on,” Topic said. “And the fact that people would have to resort to using open records laws, which they often do because they have no other choice, just speaks to the lack of care that the police department is expressing.” NBC 5 has made repeated requests to CPD for an interview on these investigations and the department’s low hit-and-run clearance rate overall. The most recent request to sit down with Supt. David Brown has not yet been acknowledged.

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