In a recent hit-skip case, a driver in a one-car accident hit a utility pole and failed to stop.  The police caught him later that night and arrested him.  On appeal, the court noted that failure to report is an essential element of the hit skip statute in Ohio.  Thus, the defendant’s motion for acquittal should have been granted because the state did not establish a “failure to report” the accident.  

Under R.C. 4549.02(A), failure to report is very difficult to establish where there is a one-car accident. Further, under R.C. 4549.03(A), the driver was not given 24 hours to report the accident to police. 

FACTS

In the early morning hours, a vehicle collided with a utility pole about two or three feet off of a road.  The utility pole broke and fell over into a nearby parking lot—away from the street—and several pieces broke off from the vehicle as a result of the collision.

After the collision, the vehicle left the scene. A witness reported it to the police, giving the license plate number of the suspected vehicle.

An officer responded, surveyed the damage, and drove to the residence of the registered owner of the suspected vehicle.   A heavily damaged black Cadillac was in the driveway (matching the description from the witness).

The officers knocked on the door and spoke briefly with the defendant, who appeared intoxicated and had blood on his shirt and his chin.  The defendant refused to answer any questions and asked to speak with an attorney.

He was charged with “Hit-Skip” in violation of R.C. 4549.02(A), a first degree misdemeanor, and Failure to Control, a minor misdemeanor.

Was There Damage to Property Public Roads or Highways?

One of the central questions in the case was whether the accident – a one car accident hitting a utility pole – caused damage on “public roads.”

If it was a public road, R.C. 4549.02(A) would apply and specific notification rules would apply.  If it was not on a public road, the damage to realty statute – R.C. 4549.03(A) would apply.

The Statute initially argued that the utility pole was in the roadway.  But when the State realized the utility pole was not upon the roadway,” it argued that “upon the roadway” elements are satisfied by damage to the road itself as a result of the accident. In support, the State pointed to photographs showing a tire mark at the scene of the crash, and pictures of the scuffed curb. But, the court found that damage to the roadway itself does not invoke any potential criminal liability for “Hit-Skip” under this statute.

Regardless, however, the State failed in this case to establish the “failure to report” element of Ohio’s hit skip statute.

R.C. 4549.02(A) – Stopping After Accident on Public Roadways

A “Hit-Skip” in violation of R.C. 4549.02(A), is as follows:

(A) In case of accident to or collision with persons or property upon any of the public roads or highways, due to the driving or operation thereon of any motor vehicle, the person driving or operating the motor vehicle, having knowledge of the accident or collision, immediately shall stop the * * * vehicle at the scene of the accident or collision and shall remain at the scene of the accident or collision until the driver * * * has given the driver’s * * * name and address * * * to any person injured in the accident or collision or to the operator, occupant, owner, or attendant of any motor vehicle damaged in the accident or collision, or to any police officer at the scene of the accident or collision.

To find the defendant guilty of “Hit-Skip” in violation of R.C. 4549.02(A), multiple elements have to be proven, including:

(1) there was an accident to, or collision with, persons or property upon the roadway, and

(2) that the defendant failed to report it to any one of three people before leaving the scene:

  • any person injured in the accident or collision or
  • to the operator, occupant, owner, or attendant of any motor vehicle damaged in the accident or collision, or
  • to any police officer at the scene of the accident or collision.” R.C. 4549.02(A).

The defendant – involved in a one car accident hitting a utility pole – could not be convicted under this statute for several reasons:

(1) He did not hit a pedestrian or other motor vehicle as required by the statute. 

(2) Because it was a one-person accident, there was no one to whom he should have reported the accident under the statute.  If there was anyone to report the accident to, it was himself.  There is no conjunctive “and” used in the statute requiring the defendant to report to more than one person, or to specifically report to a police officer in the event of a one car accident.

R.C. 4549.03(A) – Stopping After Accident Involving Damage to Realty or Personal Property Attached to Real Property

(A) The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in damage to real property, or personal property attached to real property, legally upon or adjacent to a public road or highway immediately shall stop and take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of the property of that fact, of the driver’s name and address, and of the registration number of the vehicle the driver is driving and, upon request and if available, shall exhibit the driver’s or commercial driver’s license.

If the owner or person in charge of the property cannot be located after reasonable search, the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident resulting in damage to the property, within twenty-four hours after the accident, shall forward to the police department of the city or village in which the accident or collision occurred, or if it occurred outside the corporate limits of a city or village to the sheriff of the county in which the accident or collision occurred, the same information required to be given to the owner or person in control of the property and give the location of the accident and a description of the damage insofar as it is known.

Although he wasn’t charged under this statute, he should have been acquitted even if he were charged under R.C. 4549.03(A) for the following reasons:

(1) It is highly unlikely that he could have readily determined the owner of the utility pole at 2:00 a.m., or that he had an adequate opportunity to identify the owner of the utility pole before being arrested. 

(2) He was arrested before the 24-hour reporting period was up.  He was still well within the 24-hour period to report the accident when arrested.  

“Criminal Rule 29(A) provides that a court must order the entry of a judgment of acquittal of a charged offense “if the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction of such offense[.]” Crim.R. 29(A).  The court of appeals ruled that the trial court should have granted the motion for acquittal and found the defendant not guilty of the hit skip charge. 

The full text of the case can be found here:  State v. Frankart, 2015-Ohio-2737.

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