Families tell 25 Investigates that any information about where a fatal hit-and-run case in Massachusetts stands – even phone calls – is often hard to come by.
Ronald Dalgliesh, whose 34-year-old son Ian died in a 2021 hit-and-run in Bridgewater, said to his wife: “You called them not long ago and we’ve never heard back.”
Kathy Dalgliesh said: “They don’t respond. Multiple times. They didn’t respond.”
And as fatal hit-and-runs skyrocket nationwide, 25 Investigates has found that no one in Massachusetts is tracking how often cases in our state end up getting solved.
We wanted to know: is Massachusetts on top of fatal hit-and-runs as our streets grow more deadly nationwide?
From 2011 to 2021, the nation has seen the number of fatal hit-and-runs double: from about 1,400, to nearly 2,800. That’s according to 25 Investigates’ analysis of the most recent data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Massachusetts saw 198 fatal hit-and-runs over that decade – that’s an average of 18 a year.
The total number of fatal hit-and-runs each year did not spike in that time period in Massachusetts.
But deadly hit-and-runs involving pedestrians are ticking up in Massachusetts: from 10 in 2011, to 17 in 2021.
And overall, Massachusetts saw 408 fatal car crashes in 2022, according to state Department of Transportation data.. That’s up about 15% from 356 in 2011.
So, how many of Massachusetts’ fatal hit-and-runs end up solved?
25 Investigates filed hundreds of public records requests – and found that answer requires a lot of digging.
We have found at least 23 unsolved deadly hit-and-runs in Massachusetts: which means potentially dangerous drivers are left on our roads, without accountability.
WHO IS TRACKING UNSOLVED FATAL HIT-AND-RUNS?
25 Investigates reached out to 328 police departments statewide and found no law enforcement agency – from local to state police – that tracks whether all hit-and-runs that cause death or injury end up getting solved.
Boston police, for example, said they’d have to individually go through thousands of hit-and-run incident reports to come up with data on how many involve fatalities and how many end up getting solved.
That’s in sharp contrast with another big city: Chicago, which releases public data that tracks the outcomes of all hit-and-run crashes, including those that cause injury or death.
And Boston’s lack of a clearance rate for hit-and-runs differs from Los Angeles, which has released its clearance rate.
Smaller Massachusetts communities provided 25 Investigates with the overall number of solved vs. unsolved hit-and-runs – but the vast majority didn’t provide a breakdown for how many dangerous hit-and-runs were solved.
In late August, we asked district attorneys statewide for a list of their unsolved fatal hit-and-runs.
No district attorney office provided us data us on that request.
“Our office does not keep a comprehensive record of all our solved and unresolved hit-and-run cases,” Worcester County DA spokesperson Casey Shea said in an Aug. 25 email. “We work closely with local police departments and the Massachusetts State Police to ensure cases are solved, families remain informed, and unresolved cases are continuously given fresh reviews.”
So, 25 Investigates came up with its own list.
25 Investigates analyzed state Department of Transportation data on crashes, federal highway safety data, media reports and law enforcement releases.
We then checked with state police, police agencies and district attorney offices.
After months of digging, 25 Investigates has confirmed at least 23 unsolved deadly hit-and-runs since 2011 statewide.
Five of those unsolved fatal hit-and-runs happened over the past year.
The ages of victims ranged from 19-year-old Jesse Johansmeyer – who police believe was struck by an unidentified white pickup truck in Hatfield in March – to 85-year-old Alexander Gribko, who died in a November 2021 hit-and-run in Yarmouth.
Communities with multiple unsolved hit-and-runs include Brockton, which has at least three. Saugus, Boston and Worcester each have at least two.
Others happened in: Lowell, Weymouth, Wellfleet, Bridgewater, East Brookfield, Quincy, Wales, Chelsea, Chicopee, Tyngsborough, New Bedford and Norwood.
On top of those 23 fatal hit-and-runs, 25 Investigates also looked into a April 2021 fatal crash in New Bedford.
In that case, a 19-year-old man crashed into a tree and was then ejected from his vehicle. According to the Bristol DA, an unknown driver then drove down the off ramp and dragged the man along the roadway, where a passing driver found him.
That crash is listed as a hit-and-run on the Mass DOT data portal – but a spokesperson for the Bristol County DA office told 25 Investigates it was not considered a hit-and-run.
Meanwhile, 25 Investigates has been trying to get details from state and local police and DA offices about the status of three additional fatal hit-and-runs in Medford, Somerville and Lynn.
25 Investigates found that at times, both local police and state police said they did not know the status of a particular fatal hit-and-run.
Numerous local police agencies told 25 Investigates to contact State Police for the status of fatal hit-and-run cases on major roadways.
“This is a Massachusetts State Police accident investigation,” Medford police officer Eleanor Whalen said in an email. “You will need to request this information through the State Police.”
But State Police then told 25 Investigates to contact individual district attorneys for the status of fatal hit-and-run cases.
“[P]lease note that under Massachusetts law, all death investigations are under the purview of the district attorney of jurisdiction,” State Police spokesperson David Procopio said in an email.
Procopio said specialized State Police units provide evidence to local police or DAs, who typically handle further investigation. DAs then decide whether to press charges.
FAMILIES FEEL FORGOTTEN
Anchor and Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh talked to families – across the state – who feel their loved ones have been forgotten.
Those families said they don’t want law enforcement to leave a stone unturned in their loved ones’ cases.
On Sunday Oct. 29 2017, 54-year-old Lisa Germain was crossing in front of then-Dunny’s Tavern in East Brookfield around 6 p.m. when a driver heading westbound hit her.
“I’m not at peace because my best friend isn’t here,” her daughter, Erica Paradis, said. “I just worry about what those last moments look like for her.”
“She was just someone that was easy to confide in and have fun with or go to with any of your problems or your hopes,” Paradis said. “She was my biggest cheerleader, and I think she was that for a lot of people.”
Six years later, Paradis said she still doesn’t know anything about the driver who hit her mother.
“She wanted to come out and dance something that she did most Sunday nights at the Blues Jam at Dunny’s Tavern,” Paradis, who spoke on the side of the road near the site of the hit-and-run, said. “But about 45 minutes later, she decided to go.”
“It was a rainy, stormy, windy night,” Paradis said. “And while she was crossing the road, a westbound driver on Route Nine struck her and she died in the road.”
Due to the rain, surveillance video quality was poor – nearby cameras switched to infrared and lost clarity. FBI enhancement of the video didn’t help.
Paradis, who believes someone accidentally hit her mom, said she dreams of the day when someone will let her family know what happened to Lisa.
“What they did was an accident,” Paradis said. “But leaving was a choice. And I wish that they would come forward to clear their own conscience, but also to give my family and my mom’s friends some closure and them and my mom the justice that she deserved.”
She said that local police have been helpful over the years – but wishes a larger law enforcement agency, like the district attorney, would look into cell phone records or other potential leads to move the case along.
“I’m not sure what the roadblock was, where we are stuck,” Paradis said. “I’m not sure if it’s with the district attorney, if it’s with more investigations. Maybe some cell phone records to see who was in the area at the time.”
25 Investigates went with Erica to the police station as she picked up her mother’s purse for the first time – inside she found her mother’s favorite gum, and some perfume.
“I remember it being larger, though, but I don’t know,” Paradis said. “Time plays tricks on your mind, right? To me, it’s memories of a life that was very much being lived, you know, like she had things to do the next day.”
Scott Croteau, a spokesperson for the Worcester County District Attorney’s office, said the investigation into Germain’s death remains ongoing and that investigators “continue to explore all avenues to further advance this case.”
The DA’s office lists Germain’s death as an unsolved case.
Croteau also said the office will remember Lisa on the anniversary of her death on social media pages.
“It has been our experience that the public sees these, and they have been a great help in bringing in tips and leading to the successful prosecution of these cases in the past,” Croteau said.
“I THINK IT JUST GOT PUSHED ASIDE”
On Sunday March 7 2021, a hit and run driver killed Ronald and Kathy Dalgliesh’s son, Ian, in Bridgewater.
Two-and-a-half years later – they too have few answers.
“They said there was no skid marks from the vehicle,” Ronald Dalgliesh said.
“Probably never saw him,” he said.
Ian’s mother, Kathy, said she had taken her son to the train station, where he said he was meeting someone.
“He was my baby, he was the one that was willing to go anywhere with anybody,” she said, later adding: “And he was so funny. He was just a riot.”
Kathy recalls that she asked him if he would come home later.
“And he said: ‘Well, if I miss this last train, I’ll just see if I can spend the night with them,’” she said.
A passing motorist found Ian unconscious in the road, at Auburn and Summer Streets just after 12:30 a.m. on a Sunday.
Officers found him with obvious trauma, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Law enforcement released sparse details, saying some kind of motor vehicle had hit Ian.
Ian’s brother provided police with the address of the people Ian had planned to visit that night.
“Police visited them to find out what happened,” Ronald said. “And they said he was acting strangely so asked him to leave.”
Ronald and Kathy Dalgliesh, and other family members who spoke to 25 Investigates, say they’re worried that their loved ones’ cases get less attention than other crimes, like murders.
“I think it just got put aside,” Kathy Dalgliesh said, “and they said: ‘Well, we’ll go back to it in a year.’”
Ronald Dalgliesh said: “I think they just said themselves, We can’t solve this. And that was it.”
On the second year anniversary of her son’s death, Dalgliesh said she contacted the district attorney’s office, but never heard back.
“Do something,” Ronald Dalgliesh said. “Just do anything. Just keep us in the loop and let us know what’s going on. And if you’re dropping it, tell us you’re dropping. And just so we know.”
Kathy Dalgliesh told 25 Investigates this week that a victims advocate from the DA office contacted her to let her know the office was awaiting results of lab reports.
Dalgliesh said the victim advocate didn’t share what exactly those lab reports would show.
‘MOST CHALLENGING TYPE OF CRASH TO INVESTIGATE’
Christopher Sanchez, a private consultant, ran accident reconstruction scenes for Massachusetts State Police for 32 years.
“It is not uncommon for a person driving a vehicle to not know what they hit,” he said. “A lot of these crashes take place at night in low light or poor visibility.”
He says state police devote ample resources to these cases – but said investigations are complicated by limited physical evidence and, often, no surveillance video.
“In a pedestrian hit and run crash, it can be the most challenging type of crash to investigate,” Sanchez said.
For example – it can be particularly tricky to find evidence of where exactly a pedestrian was struck.
Sanchez said people may flee a scene because they don’t want to go back and see what they hit.
“If you do have a vehicle that did not stick around, or you don’t have video, you’re only dealing with 50% of this crash,” he said.
He stressed the importance of witnesses coming forward.
“Because you never know what piece of information could be the critical piece of information that you’re looking for,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the advent of ubiquitous video surveillance technology is helping to solve cases.
But he also noted that society’s contending with concerns about increases in hit-and-runs – and distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians.
“There’s an increase in people who are just not paying attention on the roadways,” he said.
Michael Satterwhite, a personal injury attorney who’s represented hit-and-run victims in Massachusetts, said smaller police forces can struggle to have the resources to solve the complicated cases.
“A lot of police forces are understaffed,” he said. “They don’t have specific units that find these issues pressing. And that’s obviously an issue. And investigations like this do take a lot of manpower. You have to go over video. You have to find witnesses that want to come forward.”
POTENTIAL SOLUTION: YELLOW ALERTS
25 Investigates found one potential solution for Massachusetts: Yellow Alert systems for hit-and-runs – similar to missing child Amber alerts.
New York state is also considering a statewide Yellow Alert system.
Dawn Elliot, who founded the national nonprofit Helping Hit-and-Run Tragedies to help prevent and solve hit-and-runs, successfully pushed California to launch a Yellow Alert system for all major fatal and major injury hit-and-runs.
She took up the cause following the death of her mother in a hit-and-run in the state:
The driver that killed Elliot’s mom fled and was on the run for nine months.
“My mom was going the opposite direction,” she said. “She was killed on impact.”
Elliot believes the alerts could lead to more solved cases by giving police more to work with right away once a suspect flees the scene.
“Highway patrol then puts out like an [all points bulletin] on all of the freeway boards, all of the cell phones, alerts them with any type of a description that they have,” she said.
PUSH FOR TOUGHER PENALTIES
In Massachusetts, drivers who flee the scene of a fatal accident face a prison sentence from 2.5 to 10 years and at least a $1,000 fine – or between one to 2.5 years in a jail or house of corrections and a $1,000-$5,000 fine.
Currently, sentences can be suspended to one year.
State Sen. Mark Montigny, a Democrat representing parts of Bristol and Plymouth counties, has sponsored legislation to beef up those penalties. He’s submitted the bill annually since 2015, but it’s languished.
Montigny wants to ensure drivers in fatal hit-and-runs serve at least 2.5 years behind bars.
His bill is in honor of his late constituent Kate Brienzo, who died from her injuries after a vehicle struck her while she was walking with her boyfriend in a crosswalk.
The driver who struck Brienzo was sentenced to 2.5 years in Bristol County House of Corrections – but was only required to serve one year.
Audra Riding, general counsel and legislative director for Montigny, said the penalty for drivers who flee fatal accidents is insufficient.
She pointed to the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident causing injury: a sentence of 6 months to two years.
We asked State Police if its revamped cold case unit is examining any unsolved hit-and-runs.
Procopio said the unit has investigated one hit-and-run vehicular homicide case in Bristol County that remains unsolved. Procopio didn’t immediately release other details about that case, including the name of the victim, location or date.
Procopio said hit-and-run cases usually don’t generate the kinds of evidence that has led to cold case clearance – such as DNA evidence.
“The possible exception would be if we recovered the vehicle involved or a piece of vehicle debris from the scene and were able to retrieve the driver’s DNA from it,” Procopio said. “[T]he MSP Unresolved Cases Unit investigates cases as directed by district attorneys, who are in the best position to know what unsolved violent crimes in their jurisdictions may be moved forward by the unit’s involvement.”
Procopio said state police are deeply focused on roadway crimes.
“The Department recognizes the loss and pain felt by those whose loved ones have been killed or seriously injured by hit-and-run drivers, and work diligently with district attorneys and local police to ensure that all possible means of identifying the drivers responsible are investigated,” Procopio said.
25 Investigates Reporter Kavanaugh spoke with Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, who expressed a similar sentiment:
“My heart goes out to the families who experienced the death of a loved one,” Healey said. “To not know what happened, to not have that accountability, it’s got to be so painful.”
“In terms of what the state should do, I think it’s a conversation... a conversation also with the DA’s who have primary jurisdiction,” she said.
PUSH FOR BETTER DATA
Massachusetts plans to start collecting better data about crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists, under a state law passed in December 2022.
The law gave the state Department of Transportation a year to come up with a new standardized form for law enforcement agencies to use when responding to crashes.
The DOT plans to launch that form in December, according to DOT spokesperson John Goggin.
The DOT also must launch a publicly accessible database of those forms.
Currently, the DOT has a publicly available data tool with data on vehicle crashes.
But 25 Investigates find the data is incomplete: the database lists 71 fatal hit-and-runs from 2011 to 2021.
That’s far fewer than the 198 reported by the federal NHTSA.
The NHTSA pulls its data from numerous state records: from police accident reports, to death certificates, to medical examiner reports, to state highway department data.
The current DOT data portal, in contrast, is primarily based on crash records submitted by state and police.
25 Investigates found police agencies aren’t always indicating whether crashes are hit-and-runs on those reports.
For example – 25 Investigates found the DOT data portal does not list the crashes that took the lives of Kathleen O’Neil, Ian Dalgliesh and Lisa Germain as hit-and-runs.
CALLS FOR CHANGE
25 Investigates found at least two unsolved hit-and-runs that happened along the same stretch of road in Saugus: along Route 107.
In June of 2013, 24-year-old Yasin Ismail died while walking along the route, which runs for about two miles through deserted marsh. Police at the time said they found some vehicle parts and would attempt to find a possible vehicle.
Almost exactly two years later – on June 19, 2011, 42-year-old Kathleen O’Neil was walking along the northbound side of 107 around 1 a.m. when she was struck.
The crash threw O’Neil into the median, where she was found – about a mile from where Ismail was found.
Police said they were looking for a large vehicle with heavy front-end damage.
“There was never, ever a vehicle that could be identified that hit my sister,” Mary Theo, her big sister, said.
Around the same time of the crash, about 50 yards down the road, a Black 1996 Nissan Pathfinder flipped over and struck a tree.
Passengers in the Pathfinder tried to get away and grabbed the vehicle’s license plate.
Police said they can’t link the Pathfinder to Kathleen’s death – Theo said vehicle light lens pieces found by her sister didn’t match up.
“I know my mother would never want me to give up,” Theo said. “And I don’t want to ever give up.”
Theo wants others to remember her “baby sister” for more than her death, and says more attention on her case would honor her memory.
“She just had a smile that was just bright up anybody’s day,” Theo said. “She was into everything. She was an amazing softball player, amazing basketball player, very competitive in sports, but very kind and sharing as well. She was a great singer, a great musician, loved the guitar and played it so well. A great artist. She could sketch anything from scratch. She just did magnificent artwork. She would make you laugh so easily.”
Theo, and other families who have lost their loved ones in hit-and-runs, say someone in Massachusetts should be tracking of how many dangerous hit-and-runs end up getting resolved.
“It’s somebody’s child, there’s somebody whose parent, somebody loves them out there,” Theo said. “They should be resolved.”
Theo said, there should be touch points – when law enforcement should review open cases of hit-and-runs to see if there are any new leads, or new technologies that could find a culprit.
“Just to keep the family, give the family some hope,” she said. “Run the tip line every now and then.”
Paradis, who said she wanted more attention on her mother’s case from the district attorney’s office, agreed: “I think that there needs to be more follow up on these cases.”
“Maybe there needs to be someone who’s in charge of keeping up with what’s recent, like revisiting a case X amount of years later,” she said.
STRUGGLE TO GET RECORDS
25 Investigates also found that families report struggling to get ahold of incident reports and other police records.
Massachusetts public records law allows police departments to withhold records in open cases.
That makes it tougher for families who want to investigate unsolved hit-and-runs themselves.
Kathy Dalgliesh said she can’t get her son’s phone or laptop for her family to do their own investigation.
“His phone, his computer, all his pictures, he was an artist,” she said. “We don’t have any of that.”
Dalgliesh said the district attorney suggested talking to an officer to help get the family a copy of that data.
“Somehow they were able to get in, through the passwords,” Kathy said. “And when I called to find out about getting a copy, I never got a response.”
And Mary Theo said she had to fight for years to get a copy of the incident report of Kathy’s death – a record that ended up raising more questions for her about what happened to her little sister.
“Yeah, I took me a long time to get the police reports,” she said. “And this CD of the 911 calls, it took over a decade.”
Sharyn Lubas, a spokesperson for the Essex County DA, said under state law, the office “generally does not release documents related to” an open investigation.
“While we understand that this is difficult for the families of victims and their civil attorneys, it is necessary in order to preserve its integrity of the criminal investigation,” Lubas said. “The timelines may be long, owing to the fact we often depend on receipt of information from other investigatory agencies, including the CARs unit and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”
Lubas said state police “may have a better a better answer as to which investigator may still be assigned to the case.”
Families hope their loved ones’ cases are not forgotten – and hope that anyone with information will come forward.
“That will haunt me for the rest of my life, that somebody could leave her like that,” Theo said. “People stop when they hit a cat or dog, but it’s just human beings. And they’ll always bother me that she was alone.”
“I just wish I was there to hold him,” Kathy Dalgliesh said.
“If somebody had just held his hand, that’s all he would have needed.”
For more information about the at least 23 unresolved hit-and-run cases, check out 25 Investigates’ chart below:
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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