Family grieving after charges dropped in hit and run case

Updated: 12/17/2013 11:25 PM
Created: 12/17/2013 10:18 PM WHEC.com
By: Joangel Concepcion

A family says they are re-living a nightmare after a judge dropped the charges against a man accused of killing their loved one in a hit and run case.

It's been almost a year since the accident and the family says their hearts are broken, yet again.

This crash happened on East Avenue, near Kilbourn Road in Pittsford, back on January 28.

Vaughn Steele, 26, was hit and killed. Family members said he was waiting for a bus at the time.

Investigators said about three hours after the crash happened, someone called 911 and told the operator he hit the man. Deputies later charged Michael Hanna with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death.

But last Friday a judge dropped that charge.

News10NBC spoke with Steele's family about the charge being dropped. We also spoke to a Monroe County official on this case.

From the beginning, investigators never looked at this case as a homicide or manslaughter. They said there was not enough evidence to press those kinds of charges, so they went with what they could, leaving the scene of an incident causing physical injury or death without reporting.

Now, that charge, the only charge, has been dismissed.

Steele's family said 2013 has been nothing but hell.

“My son was a beautiful person. He was a loving, kind young man that will do anything for anyone,” said Juanita Hall-Caswell, Steele's mother.

They suffered the kind of loss that time hasn't been able to heal.

“We are still in pain. For them it may feel like it's a year, it's over. But for us, it feels like it just happened,” said Passion Hall-Steele, Steele's sister.

But now, this family said that pain runs much deeper. A judge dropped charges against the man accused of leaving the scene of the crash that killed their loved one. The judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to continue the case. It's a decision that doesn't make sense to family members.

“I don't think it's fair that he is walking free and my brother is dead,” said Hall-Steele.

Investigators say the driver, Michael Hanna, left the scene, but later called 911 and admitted to hitting something earlier in the night. It was that call that officials say lead to the judge's decision.

“Once he was aware that someone may have been injured by his actions, he acted accordingly, according to the court's review of the papers. That's what it's all about. It's not about someone not being held accountable,” said Ray Benitez, Chief of the Monroe County DWI Bureau.

Benitez says the judge based the decision on facts alone.

“I won't be able to tell you exactly what the evidence was, but I can tell you we presented a complete case before the grand jury. We left no stone unturned,” he said.

In the court's eyes, this case is over. But that will never be the case for Steele's family.

“Even though these people in authority think they have the last say, God has the last say. He sees all, he knows all, and we all know this isn't right,” said Hall-Caswell.

Investigators ultimately blamed the bad weather conditions, the darkness in the area and the fact that the victim was wearing dark clothing and walking down a busy street. All of those factors were considered in the decision making process.

It's a ruling this family said they will never agree with.


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