Hit-and-runs are on the rise, but state funds can help victims recover


It was just after midnight on June 30, 2018, and Ag Manta and his brother, Vin, were riding their bicycles home from Main Street in Manayunk toward the path along Kelly Drive. Manta remembers the driver of a gray Scion taunting them from behind, using homophobic slurs.

Then things escalated. Manta remembers hearing screeching tires before being hit from behind by the driver. He hit a telephone pole and watched the driver speed off through three red lights.

These incidents are very unsettling, but it’s important to discuss them because they are happening more and more.

Motor vehicle crashes have spiked in Philadelphia (and other cities throughout the country) during the pandemic. Hit-and-runs are on the rise and, despite fewer vehicles on the road, crashes are way up compared to 2019. According to official police data on OpenDataPhilly.org, there have been 20 more traffic deaths and injuries this year than the same time period last year—up 37%.

While advocates work on ways to slow down reckless motorists, those affected by traffic violence should understand what rights they have.

As a mechanic at Keystone Bikes, Manta had encountered several people over the years who’d gotten into bike crashes, and he knew how to handle the situation.

illustration of injured cyclist holding their knee
Illustration by Sean Rynkewicz

Manta and his brother called the police and filed a report. Another friend quickly came and drove him to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “Luckily, I had some friends nearby,” Manta says.

In the coming days, Manta’s left hand was sore and swollen, and he had a large bruise on his upper right thigh.

“Victims of hit-and-runs are entitled to a form of justice.”— Zach Leon, attorney at Stuart Leon Bicycle Crash Law

He was also left with conflicted feelings about the crash. He’d been taunted and assaulted by the driver, who still hadn’t been identified. He reached out to Stuart Leon Bicycle Crash Law to take on his case; the firm immediately got to work, both laying out Manta’s legal rights and trying to find the driver.

Father-son attorneys Stuart and Zach Leon put up 50 “witnesses wanted” posters within two blocks in each direction of the crash site and interviewed folks who were in the area at the time.

“I missed work at least one day and I remember not riding a bike for a while and taking SEPTA and having a weird relationship [with] getting around town,” Manta says. “I didn’t feel comfortable riding a bike at that point.” It was a strange time for him: he had been riding a bicycle as his primary means of transportation for years.

Within a couple weeks, Manta came to grips with the fact that they probably weren’t going to find the driver who intentionally hit him. It was unfortunate, but the Leons told him he still had options.

That included applying for compensation through the Pennsylvania Financial Responsibility Assigned Claims Plan (PFRACP), a state program that requires insurance companies practicing in Pennsylvania to contribute a small fee each month to help victims of car accidents caused by uninsured drivers and incidents like hit-and-runs.

The fund provides bicycle riders with support for medical bills, bicycle and property damage, lost wages, as well as other damages.

“We worked at that point to get Ag qualified as a victim of a hit-and-run with the state,” recalls Zach. “Victims of hit-and-runs are entitled to a form of justice.”

Victims, notes Zach, need to file their police report within 30 days of the incident, so it was great that Manta had filed his report immediately after the crash.

“Pennsylvania has a strong victims compensation fund program for bicycle riders who get hit, and so many people fall into that category,” adds Stuart. “The fund is there and they want to make sure people aren’t frauding the government. Once we get through the red tape, people seem happy to get a sense of justice from the fund.”

Although monetary compensation wasn’t Manta’s goal in the ordeal, by the time the Leons were able to secure PFRACP funds for him, the payout was welcome.

To be clear, the goal is for no one to be in the position in which Manta, and many others, find themselves. Advocates like myself, and the Leons, have been working hard to make Philadelphia a safer, better place for cyclists and pedestrians, but road rage happens and crashes are still inevitable.

If this sort of thing happens to you, it’s important you file a police report and have legal representation because, even if the driver isn’t found, there’s help available.

“It was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” says Manta. “I was like, ‘My bike’s messed up, my leg’s messed up, and I was messed up for a little while.’ Then, getting a notice saying I was entitled to something—that was awesome.”

1 Comment

  1. One important aspect not mentioned in this story (and found in many cases where cyclists are injured or killed by motorists here) is the reluctance of our Philadelphia Police Department to take action, or even show concern for cyclists. Mr. Manta was working at my bike shop when this attempted-murder-by-motor vehicle took place.
    The officers at the first police station he visited flatly refused to take his report, falsely stating that Ag could only make a report to the district covering where the crime occurred. I accompanied Ag to the 5th District in Manayunk, first making sure the District commander would be on duty. He informed us that the earlier officers had in fact lied to us, but took down the details and assured us that the case would be taken seriously and said he would forward the case to the proper detectives.
    Timely investigation is essential in these matters, as our best shot was that some security cameras along Ridge Ave. might have recorded the violence or the fleeing attackers. But most camera systems overwrite and erase their videos monthly or even weekly. More than a dozen calls over two months finally uncovered what had been done by the detectives: nothing. Ag’s report was sent to a detective who went on vacation without handing off his jobs, tossing them all in a file cabinet. Any chance of catching a man who used his car as a weapon vanished as the trail grew cold.
    In my experience, this was not an exception, but the rule. The Philadelphia Police Department, from street cops up to the brass consider road violence and even death caused by careless or vicious motorists as "accidents" and not as important work, central to their mission of protecting and serving Philadelphians. Over more than 25 years, I have had trouble even getting injured cyclists to report these crashes to the PPD. "They don’t care."…"The police won’t do anything."…"They always say it’s the cyclists’ fault", they tell me.
    As the grandson of a hard-working Philadelphia police officer, it pains me to admit that they are probably correct in their cynicism. Until the Philadelphia Police Department changes their stance, Philly cyclists may get some compensation, but they are unlikely to get justice.

    – Michael McGettigan / trophybikesPHL

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