ST. LOUIS – This city has been known to have its share of speeding and even distracted drivers – be it because of texting or drug or alcohol influence. But there’s a lesser-known impact that one organization is fighting hard against: hit-and-run driving.
Now in its third year, Fighting H.A.R.D., a nonprofit, is driving awareness, education, resources and accountability of those who strike pedestrians and then run.
“There are key focuses on speeding, distracted and under-the-influence driving, but there is not a key focus on this particular outcome: hit-and-run driving,” said Tiffanie Stanfield, founder and executive director of Fighting H.A.R.D.
Stanfield began forming the nonprofit in 2016 when her sister, Jameca Stanfield, was struck and killed by a motorist who left the scene. It occurred on Grand Boulevard at Montgomery Street in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.
According to eyewitness accounts, she said, the driver was traveling at least 80 mph, well past the legal speed limit of 35 mph in the area. The resulting death of her sister devastated Stanfield and her family. And the fact that the driver did not stop further scars the surviving family members.
Not only does fleeing add insult to injury, but Stanfield believes that by stopping, the responsible party could call emergency help and possibly save a life.
“It makes a difference if you stay because it tells me you care, it tells me you have compassion, it tells me you have a moral compass,” Stanfield said. “Someone staying on scene, being accountable, doesn’t change my grief of losing my sister, but it does change my perspective on the driver.”
One reason that drivers sometimes leave the scene of a vehicular/pedestrian accident, Stanfield said, is fear. However, she said, drivers usually aren’t charged for accidentally hitting someone. They may be charged for the leaving the scene.
In Missouri, leaving the scene of an accident is a Class D felony and carries a maximum four-year sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Stanfield believes the punishment is too light.
“It’s murder. It’s a violent crime. And someone should be charged,” Stanfield said. She also believes that calling it an “unfortunate or tragic accident” is a misnomer and an impediment to legislating stiffer penalties.
To that end, the nonprofit is working toward nudging legislators, beginning with St. Louis’ City Hall. Just last month, 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer sponsored a resolution calling for an annual report of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in St. Louis.
“An annual report will help us get a handle on the data needed to start to address this very serious issue,” Spencer said.
Between 2013 and 2017, there were 64 pedestrian fatalities and 1,186 injuries in the city alone. Higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian’s being stuck by a car and the severity of injury, according to the American Automobile Association Foundation.
Along with awareness, Spencer’s resolution also the pushes the commemoration of the victims, something the nonprofit has done with an event since the first year of its inception.
After contributing $30,000 of her own funds, Stanfield said, she raised an additional $12,000, which along with non-monetary resources is provided to surviving family members at the group’s annual event.
“It really warmed me when she brought everyone together who could relate to the kind of pain,” said Mia Curry, mother of Jazzmine Curry, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Natural Bridge Avenue in August 2015.
“That was the beginning of me and her son being able to celebrate her. He was not even sad at the event – he was so happy to be there,” Curry said, adding that she didn’t see how Stanfield did it.
“Every day she has to be reminded of her sister, because she’s out there working on this every day,” said Curry, who like Stanfield had a tough time talking about their loved ones lost to hit-and-run drivers.
For more information, visit www.fightinghard.org.