‘Truly an epidemic' says FHP as Orange County hit-and-runs double last year's count

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Most people who run from a crash are trying to avoid a DUI, or they might have a suspended license.

But Florida Highway Patrol troopers want the public to know that just for leaving the scene of a crash, you'll be locked up for at least four years and could spend up to 30 years in prison.

Jamie McWilliams knows the pain of someone's decision to leave instead of help.

Her son, Justin McWilliams, died in a hit-and-run in 2002.

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"My heart breaks every time I hear of another hit-and-run incident because I know what's coming. I know what these families are going to have to deal with,” said McWilliams.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the problem is worse in Florida than in any other state.

“This is truly an epidemic that we have so many people that have disregard for another human’s life,” said Sgt. Kim Montes.

So far this year, 15 people have died in Orange County from hit-and-run crashes.

Six have died in the Tampa area, five have died in Jacksonville and three have died in Miami.

"There are a lot of people in Orange County that (have suspended licenses). We have a lot of people that are arrested for DUI and multiple times have been arrested for a DUI,” Montes said. “We know those are two big contributing factors as to why people leave the scene."

And the problem is growing.

By this time last year, six people had been killed by hit-and-runs in Orange County.

In Central Florida, troopers work 20 to 30 hit-and-runs accidents each day.

The Highway Patrol said most drivers think if they're drunk, they'll face more serious charges if someone dies.

"The way the law works in Florida, if you are impaired, you have to be at fault in the crash in order for it to rise to that level of DUI manslaughter,” Montes said.

McWilliams said she wishes more people understood the laws and had compassion.

"We absolutely have to increase awareness,” she said.

Troopers said if you witness a hit-and-run, take note of the color of the car, get the plate number if possible and call 911.