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'Hit-and-run' capital Los Angeles launches alert system, rewards

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Seeking to make a major dent on Los Angeles’ reputation as the “hit-and-run capital of the nation,” city leaders on Tuesday approved a package of measures, including rewards and an alert system, designed to catch drivers who flee traffic crashes.

Out of 40,000 car accidents in America’s second-largest city, nearly half are classified as hit-and-runs, well above the national average, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Last year, 27 people were killed in hit-and-run accidents in Los Angeles and 144 suffered serious injuries. Only about a fifth of those cases were solved, police department statistics show.

“We are the hit-and-run capital of the nation. People are being left on the side the road like wounded animals,” said Councilman Mitch Englander, who proposed the initiative that was approved by a unanimous vote of the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday and takes effect immediately.

The legislation establishes a hit-and-run mass notification system - similar to Amber Alerts for missing children and comparable to an approach used in Denver since 2012 - that sends out information about the make and model of cars involved in such crashes to the public via social media.

The Los Angeles bulletin system also alerts taxi-cab drivers and tells auto-body specialists to watch for vehicles coming into their shops dented or bloodied.

In addition, the city will offer standing rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of hit-and-run drivers: $50,000 for a fatal crash, $25,000 for a collision resulting in serious injury, $5,000 for an accident causing a lesser injury and $1,000 if there was property damage only.

Leaving the scene of a fatal crash or an accident that caused serious injury can lead to felony charges.

Rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight was charged with murder and felony hit-and-run after prosecutors say he ran over two men with his pick-up truck on Jan. 29 after an altercation in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton. One of the men was killed in that incident.

Last year the California state legislature approved a bill that would call for information about hit-and-run drivers to be displayed on electronic freeway signs. That legislation was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown over concerns that it could interfere with the Amber Alert system.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler