No state help for hit and run victims

Maria Webster Benham
Maria Webster Benham
Dennis Pastor
Dennis Pastor

By Chris McGill - bio | email

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) - The Kentucky State Crime Victims Compensation Board is designed to financially help victims of violent crimes in the Commonwealth. But it seems that victims of certain crimes, such as hit and run accidents, are falling through the cracks.

Dennis Pastor and Maria Webster Benham are both victims of violent hit and run accidents, and both suffered life-threatening injuries when drivers hit them and drove off. But due to the way the law is written, they can't get help from the very organization that was formed to help victims of violent crimes.

"He took his vehicle and he turned it into a deadly weapon," Maria said, as she recalled being hit while driving her motorcycle along Highway 1238 in Mead County on her way to Louisville in October of 2008. She was sideswiped by a pick-up truck pulling a trailer.

The driver never stopped.

"He was in my lane," Maria recalled. "Later on I learned he was about three-quarters of the way into my lane when he hit me. The trailer itself hit me twice. It hit me in the upper leg, severing my femoral artery and also hit me in the lower leg."

As a result, Maria lost her left leg above her knee. And nearly lost her life.

"I did die - on the road. I lost 11 units of blood, so that would have made it automatically manslaughter right then and there," Maria said. "In the operating room, I died twice more."

Dennis' nightmare began on a Sunday in early April of 2006. He was crossing a section of Bardstown Road near Baxter Avenue after returning movies to a movie rental store. He says he looked both ways to make sure traffic was clear and began to walk across the street to his car. That's the last thing Dennis remembers.

"At the point of impact, the vehicle threw me 98 feet, which meant the vehicle had to be traveling at a pretty good clip down Bardstown Road, faster than the posted speed limit."

Dennis is lucky to be alive. He spent almost two months in the hospital, but he'll never see a full recovery or be able to return to his former job as a security officer for the Seelbach Hotel.

"It's changed my life forever,"  Everything that I used to do normally I can't do. I had to learn how to walk all over again."

Police never found the car that hit Dennis or the truck that crashed into Maria. Now both are burdened by the costs of their medical care. They applied for financial assistance through Kentucky's Crime Victims Compensation Board. A board that was established in 1976 by the General Assembly to help compensate victims of injurious crimes.

Dennis says his claim was denied because "they consider it a traffic accident and not a criminal act."

Maria was also denied for the very same reason.

In July of 2008, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed a new bill into law making it a felony to leave the scene of a hit and run accident, so it would appear that Dennis and Maria would fall within the coverage of the Crime Victims Compensation Board. But according to board director Virginia Woodward, that isn't the case.

"When the evidence from law enforcement doesn't corroborate that it was intentional or there was alcohol involved it does not fall within our statutes and therefore is denied," Woodward said.

And in both instances, the suspects were never apprehended and police were never able to definitively determine that either cause was involved.

"I think it's unfortunate what has happened to them," Woodward said. "I believe that if they can get a coalition of people together and go to a legislator and get it done we obviously will carry out the law."

Kentucky is only one of a handful of states where the law stops just short of considering victims of hit and run injuries eligible for monetary help from the state's Crime Victims Compensation Board.

For Dennis and Maria and other victims, until a state lawmaker steps up and agrees to carry the torch of their cause to the state capitol in order to change the law, they'll continue to fall through the cracks of what they consider to be a broken system.

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