Breakthrough in Search for Hit-and-Run Driver, No Thanks to Police

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Still from red light camera footage of the pick-up truck that ran over Dustin Valenta.

The hunt for the motorist who ran over Dustin Valenta then fled the scene is one step closer, but the cyclist’s lawyer says it’s no thanks to the Chicago Police Department. Earlier today attorney Michael Keating received red light camera footage of the pick-up truck from the city in response to a request he filed soon after the February 8 crash. Keating is optimistic it will be possible to make out the license plate number using video enhancement equipment. “But it’s preposterous that the police didn’t do this themselves sooner,” he said.

Valenta was cycling northwest past Artemio’s Bakery, 1443 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park, when he was doored by a motorist in a parked car, then struck by the pick-up. The cyclist suffered a cracked skull, broken shoulder blades and hip, 23 cracked ribs and a punctured lung. The responding police officer cited the first driver but, bizarrely, instead of ticketing her for the dooring, charged her with violating a Chicago ordinance that requires motorists to yield the right-of-way to people on horseback. Worse, the crash wasn’t reported to the CPD’s Major Accidents Investigation Unit until two weeks later, which Keating said delayed the hunt for the truck driver.

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The crash site. Photo by John Greenfield.

Keating recovered grainy security footage from a Citibank near the crash site, which showed the pick-up rolling over Valenta as he lay in the road. “It didn’t give us a precise image but it showed what the truck looked like and exactly when the crash occurred,” he said. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago Department of Transportation for red light footage from five nearby major intersections during this time frame. Video from a camera at the southeast corner of Division Street and Ashland Avenue shows the gray domestic pick-up driving north on Ashland, then northwest on Milwaukee.

He says CDOT’s response time to his request was reasonable considering the volume of materials he asked for. “The issue I have is with the CPD and their failure to obtain access to this footage, which is more easily obtainable by them than us,” he said. Keating said he immediately forwarded the video to Major Accidents, which has access to high-quality video enhancement gear. He also sent the Citibank footage but the CPD was unable to decipher the license number from the blurry images.

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FOIA response from CDOT to Keating's clerk Paul Min.

While he waits for the analysis of the red light video, the lawyer is working on obtaining security footage from a Walgreens close to the crash site. “In short, the video images from the bank, CDOT and Walgreens were all obtained in the course of the civil suit that I am pursuing,” Keating said. “The police could of and should have obtained this information weeks ago.”

Meanwhile, Valenta, a delivery biker, yoga teacher and actor, is healing remarkably well from his near-death experience. Reached on the phone while taking a walk, he said, “It’s still painful but I am definitely on the mend. I’m really excited to be recovering faster than the doctors expected, but I’ve still got a ways to go.” Currently living at a friend’s apartment, he is still wearing a neck brace, attending weekly physical therapy sessions and doing extensive rehab exercises twice a day in hopes of getting his full range of motion back.

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Dustin Valenta.

Valenta said he’s “incredibly thankful” that Keating has been so tenacious in pursuing the hit-and-run driver. “Without his persistence we never would have found out there was a problem with the police report and the way it was filed. He’s been fighting for me when I don’t have anything to reward him yet with except my gratitude.”

Friends and colleagues, as well as strangers who identified with his case, have raised money for Valenta’s medical expenses via benefit events and the donation sites Go Fund Me and Give Forward. “I can’t say enough how grateful I am to everyone who’s come out of the woodwork to support me,” he said. “I wouldn’t be recovering as well as I am without it.”