Could unlicensed Detroit drivers be causing unsolved hit and runs?

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The irony is tragic. Maurice Mims - a Vietnam veteran - killed on Veterans Day of last year.

"The light was red for them - green for him," says his brother Garnett.

He recalls the day his brother died and the vehicle that would take his life.

"You could see him coming out of nowhere, behind all them cars."

Mims, who was just trying to cross the road, was one of the 27 fatal hit and run victims in the city of Detroit last year.

Police have leads but have made no arrest just yet.

"I am just looking for some... just give me something," says Mims. 

The family of Sidney Hopkins lost their loved one just last month. A Dodge Charger plowed over the 69-year-old. It left her lying in a Detroit road, before taking off.

"Very very hard to even think about it," says one of her family members.

She's one of the 10 victims Detroit police have logged just this year. The Chief of Police has been on the scene all too often. He tells us a recent victim thankfully survived.

"I rolled up on a situation just three weeks ago. A lady was trying to work her way across in a wheelchair. A truck hits her. Fortunately, the only thing damaged was her wheelchair," says Chief James Craig. "But the driver didn't stop. He kept going."

This got the chief thinking, and raising the question:

"I think there is a correlation with unlicensed drivers."

It would make sense. Certainly, driving without a license makes stopping to help a victim riskier. It got us thinking, and digging, too.

How many unlicensed drivers are on the road locally and nationwide? And are they a common factor in a nationwide rise in pedestrian fatalities?

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • 5,376 pedestrians were killed by motorists in 2015, the most recent year on record. That was up by about 500 from the previous year.
  • In the state of Michigan alone, there were 166.

Keep in mind, not all of those cases involve a driver who fled.

So how many unlicensed drivers are on the road in Michigan?

Hard to say exactly, because, well, they are unlicensed and live in the shadows. The state doesn't have that data, but the Michigan Secretary of State told us there are 7.1 million licensed drivers in the state.

So we did some math using census data.

Approximately 1.5 million Michiganders of driving age are unaccounted for and potentially on the road  - unlicensed.

That doesn't include those licensed with suspended licenses, a problem the 7 Investigators exposed earlier this year.

AAA says those drivers account for 1 out of 5 deadly crashes -staggering numbers and a lot of unanswered questions.

Meanwhile, the chief hopes more folks will step up to help them find some answers.

"I would hope, if a person is lying in the street ,someone would stop to render aid and try to get a description of the vehicle, a plate number." He adds, "It doesn't always work that way."

In the case of Maurice Mims, who's brother still wears his ID badge around his neck, family hope the perpetrators themselves start stepping up too.

"They need to give themselves up. How can you live with yourself," he says. "I know he wasn't a superstar to a lot of people, but he was to us."
 

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