Hit-and-run crashes quite often happen in an instant – the consequence of speeding, drink-driving or simply carelessness. But the damage to those injured in these often fleeting situations can last a lifetime. Three people describe what it’s like to survive a hit-and-run.
‘It was hard to feel grateful to be alive’
Jack Martindale was walking home in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2010 when a car mounted the kerb and drove into him and his two friends.
Carrie Maclaren, 20, from Barnet, north London, died at the scene and Chelsea Cannon, 19, also from Barnet, died after three months in a coma.
Jack, now 30, was also in a three-month coma. His skull was shattered into 30 pieces and surgeons painstakingly reassembled the fragments of bone, fusing his head together with nine titanium plates.
The crash, on the North Circular Road in Enfield, was described by police as one of the worst accidents they had seen. The driver, Shamail Ali Syed – who fled the scene – was jailed for seven years.
“We were having a good time,” says Jack, from Islington. “We got to Arnos Grove underground station and we were on the walk back. We bought a frozen pizza from a petrol station – I know this because I’ve been told – and then we were hit. But I don’t really remember this.
“I was pretty poorly. It was incredibly bleak.”
After months of surgery and rehabilitation, Jack eventually returned to the University of York to complete his English degree.
“I got my 2:1 in 2013 which, to be fair, I would have always been happy to get,” he says.
“Of course what happened is always with you to a degree but that was a good closing element to it. I ended what I was doing at the time.”
Since then, Jack has written a book about what happened which he described as ” therapeutically cathartic, a release”.
Aside from dealing with his own life-changing injuries, Jack also had to come to terms with losing two of his closest friends.
“You live with it don’t you? That’s all I can ever say,” he says. “It is what it is. You never will forget it. Because of how poorly and how injured I was, it was hard for me to feel grateful at the time to be alive. It was a double-edged sword.
“I’m so, so lucky to be where I am now and living life in a good way but I’m not really lucky when you think I was 21, just walking home on New Year’s Day. No-one is invincible, that’s one thing it certainly taught me.
“I’m certainly moving forward. I just started a new job with the Single Homeless Project, which definitely shows a different side of life.”
‘It’s made me more anxious’
Medical student Josh Dey was thrown off his bike in a hit-and-run crash in London in April.
The 23-year-old was on his way home when a car veered on to the wrong side of Swain’s Lane in Highgate and sent him flying into the air. He was left with a bleed on the brain, ligament damage to his knee, and a broken nose and toe.
The man who caused the crash – 29-year-old Sean Fagan – fled the scene and was jailed for 20 months after he admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
“The head injury, that removed all memory of what happened,” says Josh. “It’s just made me more anxious in general. Not just going on the roads but everything – I walk faster for example, I heat up a lot [like a hot flush].
“It’s just very weird physiological signs of anxiety. I just feel very fatigued as well, which I think is as a result of the head injury itself.”
Josh was hoping to recover in time to take his medical exams at University College London in the summer but he “wasn’t in the right state” and is redoing the year.
He lives close to the scene of the crash, which he described as still “raw, very recent”.
Cycling was a big part of Josh’s life but the anxiety he now feels about getting back on his bike is outweighing his desire to ride again.
“It was something I really valued,” he said. “I’ve been cycling ever since secondary school. I was in a cycling club, a cycling society. If I didn’t have the bike as a stress relief option or leisure activity, I don’t think I would have survived through medical school the way I did.
“It was central, the most important thing.”
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The number of recorded hit-and-run crashes in England and Wales rose by 45% in four years, according to a Freedom of Information request in 2018.
Research by the University of Leicester into the psychological factors that influence why people commit a hit-and-run found a culture of people leaving the scene of a collision because they believed it wasn’t “serious enough” or was too “trivial”. Driving without insurance, drink-driving and other crimes or faults the driver wants to hide, were other factors.
Currently, hit-and-run drivers face a maximum sentence of six months where there is no other evidence of careless or dangerous driving, but road safety charity Brake wants the government to increase the maximum sentence as a deterrent.
“Fleeing the scene of a crash and potentially leaving someone to die in the middle of the road is an abhorrent crime,” a spokesman said.
The Ministry of Justice said hit-and-run drivers who injure or kill can face charges far more serious than just failing to stop.
“We have committed to changing the law so that drivers who kill can receive life sentences, up from the current maximum of 14 years,” a spokesman said.
‘I thought I was a goner’
Ash Dixon, from Plymouth, was only travelling 300 yards (275m) between his home and his girlfriend’s house when he was knocked off his motorcycle on 7 September.
“It was about 9pm and the conditions were dark. A car turned into the road right in front of me with no indication or lights. I hit my brakes immediately and went over the handlebars on impact and into the window and over the vehicle.
“I thought I was a goner; there’s someone keeping me alive up there.”
Ash sustained two broken ribs, internal chest bruising, a “big hole” in his left leg which required surgery and 15 stitches in his right leg.
The person responsible for the crash, which Ash said has “affected me mentally”, has still not come forward.
“When I’m riding and I see a car waiting to turn, it is always in the back of my head. I slow right down even more after knowing what can happen from hitting the car at just 30mph.
“I feel I am a lot more aware and that any driver could do this at any time to anyone. I just hope if it does happen to anyone else, the driver would come forward and hand themselves in.”