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Hit-run victim dies, morality debate continues

The mayor of Hartford, Conn., says police continue to work "tirelessly" on the case of a man who was left paralyzed and mute when he was hit by a car last year.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Hartford man has died a year after he was left paralyzed and mute in a hit-and-run accident that was mostly ignored by witnesses and inspired a debate about the city's morality.

Angel Arce Torres was removed from life support Monday in Hartford Hospital and died of injuries suffered in the accident, said his son, Angel Arce. He was 79.

A surveillance camera recorded the accident May 30, 2008, in a busy Hartford neighborhood about a mile from the state Capitol.

Torres was walking across Park Street when two wrong-way drivers raced into view. One zipped by Torres, while the second struck him, flipping him head over heels and leaving him twisted and motionless in the street.

Cars drove by without stopping as a crowd gathered on a sidewalk. One driver briefly stopped before pulling back into traffic; the operator of a motor scooter circled the man before taking off again.

A police officer arrived less than two minutes later, having come upon the accident while responding to an unrelated call. Authorities initially said they were unsure whether anyone had even called 911 but later said four people did within a minute of the accident.

The video touched off a round of soul-searching in Hartford, with the city's newspaper blaring "SO INHUMANE" on the front page. Police Chief Daryl Roberts lamented at the time, "We no longer have a moral compass. We have no regard for each other."

The driver was never caught.

'Bad, bad, bad
"You know people keep calling it an accident," Arce said Tuesday. "It was not an accident. It was a crime."

Police didn't return calls Tuesday on whether the crash would now be classified a homicide.

Neighbors said the crash continues to cast a shadow.

"It's very bad. Very bad. Bad, bad, bad," said Wilgermina Vasquez, 55, who has lived along Park Street for more than a decade. "How can you hit someone and not stop? How can you know who did it and not say nothing?"

It deteriorates the neighborhood, said Lady Ortiz, 22, who works nearby as a kindergarten instructor.

"It's difficult, because now we know we can't always trust each other. People saw this happen and didn't say anything. So if it were to happen to me? I don't know."

Arce said the family gets updates every week from police about the progress — or lack thereof — in the case.

"It's not the police department," he said. "It's the community; in order for them to do their job, the community has to come forward. People out there know him, and no one wants to talk."

Seeking justice
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez expressed condolences in a statement and said police are working "tirelessly" on the case.

The family tried to keep Torres, a former forklift operator, comfortable during the last year of his life, his son said. They fed him spoonfuls of strawberry ice cream and coffee during frequent hospital visits. They helped him celebrate his birthday and 50th wedding anniversary.

"He never did talk after the accident. We had to learn how to read his lips," Arce said. "We never talked about the accident. We just spent it making him laugh and seeing him."

Finding the people responsible for the hit-and-run would bring the family some peace, Arce said: "It's not going to bring my father back. But at least we'd know that justice had been served and this won't happen to somebody else."