TAYLORSVILLE — A Taylorsville man whose teenage daughter was hit and killed by a car on Halloween says he's surprised the driver only received a citation, and he wonders if it has anything to do with her being a Unified police officer's sister.
The West Valley City Police Department, which took over the investigation because of that conflict of interest, defended its and Unified's investigations into the auto-pedestrian accident that killed 14-year-old Victoria Hillman.
Hillman died Oct. 31 after being hit by a Honda Odyssey in a marked crosswalk at 5930 S. 2700 West. Victoria was trick-or-treating with two friends at the time.
The driver of the Odyssey, Veronica Rodriguez, 34, is the sister of a Unified police officer, West Valley police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku said. Rodriguez was cited Thursday for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, an infraction under Utah law, Vainuku confirmed.
Christopher Hillman, Victoria's father, said he was informed by police Wednesday night that Rodriguez would be fined $145 for the infraction. He said he is appalled at the result of the investigation.
"It's just really frustrating that someone hits and kills a 14-year-old girl that's crossing in a crosswalk and they walk away," Hillman said. "I was expecting a little bit more than simply a ticket."
Hillman alleges his daughter was dragged at least 50 feet, and that multiple witnesses have told him that the driver left the scene for about 15 minutes before returning. He said the officer who called him Wednesday "said that he didn't hear anything about that."
"But there's actual witnesses that said she left and then came back," he said.
Originally, the crash was reported as a hit-and-run, said Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell. But that was only until arriving officers located the woman and talked with her about what happened, he said.
Bell said the driver pulled over around a corner immediately after the crash. He wasn't sure Thursday whether she went back to the site of the accident.
Vainuku said Rodriguez didn't know she had hit a person, and she never tried to flee the scene.
Unified police called West Valley police at 8:30 p.m., about 80 minutes after the crash was reported, Vainuku said.
"As soon as that discovery was made (about Rodriguez's relation to a police officer), that's when we were called in and took over the investigation," she said.
Hillman said he's concerned about the original investigation performed by Unified police. He said he believes police didn't give any weight to information they gathered before West Valley officers arrived at the scene, evidence he says that may have resulted in a more serious offense.
"We have a lot of unanswered questions," he said. "A lot of us feel like it's been covered up, the way that it's been investigated, how long it's taken, and then she's walking away with a ticket."
Bell was adamant that West Valley handled the situation properly.
"We (wanted West Valley) to conduct the investigation so that, in the future, there could be no allegations of misconduct," he said. "Absolutely no effort was ever made to cover anything up."
Bell added that the patrol officer who is Rodriguez's brother does not work in that area and was not on duty that evening.
Vainuku said West Valley police came to a "joint decision" with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office that there was "no evidence that there was any illegal reason behind (Rodriguez's) distraction."
"We feel for this family. No one would want to lose their child. But ultimately it’s just a tragic accident," she said. "We don’t make these laws. We enforce these laws. I can’t explain to you why lawmakers have made this decision, but that’s the way that the laws sit on the books, and that’s what we are left to enforce."
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday he would need to research the case before commenting on it.
Contributing: Brianna Bodily