It’s been more than four years since an unidentified driver struck Hollywood resident Damian Kevitt as he rode his bike through Griffith Park, leaving him severely injured.
On May 21, more than 750 people joined Kevitt in Griffith Park for the fourth annual “Finish the Ride,” an event he created in the aftermath of the collision that raises awareness about traffic safety.
Kevitt was struck on Feb. 17, 2013 near the Autry Museum of the American West and dragged under the vehicle down an onramp to the Golden State (5) Freeway, before the driver sped away. Authorities said at the time that his injuries could easily have been fatal.
Kevitt was hospitalized for months and one of his legs was amputated. Although he lost a limb, Kevitt did not lose his passion for helping others. He turned the experience into a positive force for change, starting the first “Finish the Ride” event in 2014 and later forming Streets Are For Everyone (SAFE), a nonprofit advocating for pedestrian and bicycle safety programs.
Kevitt said the support he continues to receive is surprising and rewarding. He rode alongside Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, 13th District, at the event on May 21.
“I am happy to support Damian and raise awareness about bicycle safety and our hit-and-run epidemic,” O’Farrell said.
“Finish the Ride” continues to grow, and includes rides of varying distances through Griffith Park suited to all skill levels. People also walk, skateboard, roller skate and use other forms of transportation to show solidarity. The event this year featured a bicycle safety workshop for children.
“It’s a ride, run, walk and roll,” Kevitt said. “We have everything from families to half-century hardcore riders.”
Kevitt said he knew he was on to something positive when hundreds of people joined him for the first ride in 2014. He parlayed the success into SAFE, which is now involved in the city’s Vision Zero initiative seeking to eliminate traffic deaths by 2025. In 2015, Kevitt and SAFE worked with the Los Angeles City Council to establish a standing reward for hit-and-runs. Rewards of up to $50,000 are now automatically available in cases involving hit-and-run fatalities.
Kevitt also found an ally in former Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who authored legislation that led to a statewide “yellow alert” system in 2015. Under the law, “yellow alerts” about hit-and-run vehicles are broadcast on electronic freeway signs similar to Amber Alerts when children are believed to have been abducted.
SAFE also funded 300 billboards throughout Los Angeles County with traffic safety messages. More recently, Kevitt and SAFE launched a support program for victims of hit-and-run collisions who are hospitalized. He said while support groups exist for addiction and many other maladies and conditions, there was no group to help people who were injured after being struck by cars.
“We have been developing a support service that is currently in 13 different hospitals,” Kevitt said. “The hospitals refer patients who need help. We help people file police reports and inform them about how to get help from victim assistance funds. It’s a free service.”
The service is available at Good Samaritan Hospital, Harbor UCLA Medical Center and many regional trauma centers. Kevitt said he is working with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and other hospitals in the local area to expand the service.
Kevitt also launched the Streets, Art, SAFE program, which pairs high school students with film production professionals to create public service announcements (PSAs) about traffic safety. The students’ PSAs are judged in a competition and an awards ceremony was held last week at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters. Kevitt hopes to expand Streets, Art, SAFE in schools throughout Los Angeles.
Organizers with SAFE plan to get more involved in the Vision Zero 2025 initiative to help implement programs aimed at eliminating traffic-related deaths. Kevitt said the need is more evident than ever, with 40,000 traffic deaths nationwide last year, and 50,000 people hospitalized in Los Angeles County in 2017 because of traffic collisions.
“A disproportionate number [of people injured are] pedestrians and cyclists,” Kevitt said.
Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Gillman said the city is partnering with SAFE on Vision Zero and he credited Kevitt with raising awareness about the problem.
“We have partnered with him on multiple safety education programs, most recently with the high school public service announcement competition,” Gillman said. “A big part of Vision Zero is changing people’s behavior, primarily reducing speed, because we all know speed kills. Damian’s personal experience certainly illustrates the major injuries or the potential for fatalities that occur when a cyclist is hit. His program educates people about pedestrian and bicycle safety.”
Police are still searching for the driver who struck Kevitt in 2013, and as the years go by, it becomes less likely that the driver will ever be found, he said. Although the incident caused debilitating injuries, Kevitt said he is at peace about the situation and credits it for creating positive change in his life.
“He dragged me under his car and was too cowardly or too much of a spineless individual to stop. He is going to have to live with it for the rest of his life,” Kevitt said. “That’s got to be a miserable existence. Let him suffer his own consequences. I’m obviously doing fine.”
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