Police still asking public’s help in finding hit-and-run driver who injured woman

BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

Somebody out there knows who was driving the car that struck Linda Vitale as she was crossing the street about two-and-a-half weeks ago. The victim’s friends and the Long Beach Police Department are hoping the person or persons who know will step forward so that justice can be done.

Vitale was crossing the street with her dog Maggie at the intersection of 36th Street and Myrtle Avenue at about 7:50pm on December 15. She never saw what hit her.

A car, which police estimate was traveling 35 to 40 miles per hour, struck Vitale and Maggie, seriously injuring both of them. The driver never stopped and has not been apprehended yet. The Long Beach Police Department is asking for the public’s help in discovering the identity of the hit and run driver. An eyewitness of the accident would be the most helpful, but the driver may have told someone about the incident, or someone may have noticed suspicious dents on a friend’s car.

“Several people have called, but I have no leads as to who was driving the car,” said Long Beach police detective Lauro. “The case is still open and we are still receiving phone calls.” He added that he is hoping someone will step forward with information that will help the police apprehend the person responsible for Vitale and Maggie’s injuries.

Vitale suffered several fractured bones and a head injury. She was treated at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and remained there until last week. She is now convalescing in a nursing facility and is expected to recover, but the healing process is expected to take months.

Maggie, a German Shepherd, also had surgery and is expected to recover. “The problem with Maggie is that she was an abused dog that Lynda had rescued,” said John Royce, president of the California Heights Neighborhood Association (CHNA). “The dog had a real fear of people and of being out in public and Lynda was rehabilitating her. Lynda is very concerned about the dog.”

Royce explained that while Maggie is expected to fully recover physically, the accident has exacerbated her fear of being out in public. “She was already emotionally fragile,” he said.

He added that CHNA will probably be coordinating fundraising events to help pay for the dog’s care until Vitale is able to go back home. “I don’t know yet how it will all come together. We may have evenings at local restaurants where the restaurants can donate a portion of the proceeds to Maggie’s care. That would provide needed business for the restaurants too,” Royce said.

At about the time of the hit-and-run accident, several residents reported seeing a speeding blue Volkswagen Beetle traveling east on 36th Street. Vitale and a neighbor also saw a maroon 4-wheel-drive pickup truck immediately after the incident. “The people who live nearby heard the accident and ran outside to see what had happened,” Royce said. “Witnesses saw the two cars driving away, but as far as I know, there were no eyewitnesses that saw Lynda and Maggie getting hit, other than whoever was in the car that hit them.”

At this point, the police do not know the license plates of those two vehicles or if either vehicle was involved in the accident.

“Unfortunately, the police do not have much to go on,” Royce said. “But I would just ask anyone who may have some information about what happened to please come forward.” He noted that Vitale’s family is offering a $1,000 reward to the person who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or person’s responsible for the accident.

The Signal Tribune was not able to reach Vitale.

“One thing that this tragedy shows us is that we all have to be careful,” Royce said. “We live in these wonderful communities, but that doesn’t mean we are insulated from things like this.” Royce urged people to adhere to basic rules of safety, whether walking or driving. “Be aware of what is happening around you,” he said. “If you are driving, do not assume that the pedestrian sees you and if you are a pedestrian, do not assume that the approaching car will stop.”

Anyone with information on the hit-and-run accident is urged to call the LBPD at (562) 570-7355.

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