Roberta Gunnell is a statistic.

The 31-year-old woman spent nearly three weeks in the hospital recovering from injuries suffered when a hit-and-run driver slammed into her and a companion early Feb. 12. Gunnell was dragged beneath a car one-tenth of a mile and suffered leg, pelvis and chest injuries.Conflicting reports on the vehicle that struck Gunnell at Seventh West and Second South stymied investigators' efforts.

"Police departments have to allocate their budgets on seriousness of the offense and likelihood of apprehending the criminal, and unfortunately that precludes giving every case the kind of attention we would like to give it," said Sgt. Scott Folsom of the Salt Lake police's traffic division.

"Occasionally we get lucky. But usually it's based on the quality of the information at the scene - how many witnesses there were, the amount of evidence at the scene, how well the driver recalls (what happened), a license plate.

"The quality of information at the scene makes a critical difference for solving the accident," said Folsom, the division's investigating sergeant.

May through August is the heavy time for auto-pedestrian accidents "because there are more people walking around and more people out engaging in all kinds of activities," said Folsom.

"Anytime you put more pedestrians and more vehicles on the the road they're going to run into each other."

Pedestrian deaths accounted for about 15 percent of all traffic fatalities during 1986, and 23 percent of urban traffic fatalities, according to a Centers for Disease Control study.

More than 7,000 people die each year while crossing busy city intersections, the study said. Add to that 80,000 pedestrian injuries during 1986.

In 1988, 15 people died and countless others were injured in traffic accidents. About a third of the fatalities involved pedestrians.

In Gunnell's accident, the license plate number taken from the vehicle that swerved around a stopped car and slammed into Gunnell did not match any of the car descriptions.

When officers tracked down the plate, police reports said, they found the vehicle had been repossessed, resold and relicensed. It was unknown how the plate found its way back into circulation.

Additionally, Gunnell told officers she was not in the crosswalk when the accident occurred shortly after 1 a.m., reports said.

"Most of the pedestrians who get hit around here are violating some aspect of the traffic code; for example, they're not lawfully crossing the street," said Folsom.

An audit of the accidents in the city showed that more than half of the pedestrians who were hit had been drinking, he said.

"But, easily, in about half the cases, the pedestrian was clearly visible and could have been avoided but wasn't because the driver's attention wasn't where it should have been."

The driver of the vehicle that hit Gunnell has not been found. For hit-and-run accidents of all kinds, 50 to 60 percent are cleared by Salt Lake police. Officers clear a case when an arrest is made, the incident was determined to be unfounded, or the person who did the damage contacts the vehicle's owner.

"We could go out and commit tons of manpower to enforcement and shepherd them all across the street," Folsom said. "But that would preclude us from doing our other jobs. And even then we wouldn't prevent them all."


(Additional information)

Think on your feet when you cross street

-Always walk facing traffic.

-Never assume a car is going to stop (many auto-pedestrian victims have told police they thought cars were going to stop for them). Wait for the cars to pass before crossing the street.

-Wear light-colored clothing or clothing with reflective stripes. Avoid dark colors Visibility is reduced after dark.

-Cross in marked crosswalks, not between intersections.