Tahlequah Daily Press

September 17, 2012

Reporting those fender-benders


TAHLEQUAH — Most people know if they’re involved in a traffic accident in which someone is injured, and they leave the scene before officers arrive, they can be subjected to serious charges. But if they back into a car in a parking lot and simply drive away, they’re also committing a hit-and-run.

Hit-and-run cases are fairly common in Tahlequah. These accidents are especially prevalent on the truncated Second Street, where the Daily Press office is located. Many people view Second Street as a parking lot rather than a “through” street, so when backing their cars out, they’re not as vigilant as they might be downtown.

Two people recently called the Press to complain about the configuration of a newly remodeled parking lot on the NSU campus, between the Physical Plant and Leoser Hall. Both were parents who had been on campus to visit their children. One man had gone into the dorm to drop off some things for his daughter, and when he returned, he noticed a big dent in his fender. A few days later, a woman said after she backed into a car, she left a note on the windshield. The owner of the car called her the next day and told her not to worry about it. Neither parent had involved the police, but wondered if they should have, and if so, which department.

In these cases, the proper authority was the NSU Police Department, under the  capable leadership of Patti Buhl. The hit-and-run could have been investigated by her officers. And though the second case turned out OK, it’s always better to have officers witness the damage, in case an unsavory owner decides to make matters worse with a sledgehammer.

Someone’s always grumbling about parking lots at NSU and other college campuses. Parking in downtown Tahlequah poses similar challenges, and although the lots at Walmart and Reasor’s have ample room for even the biggest vehicles, fender-benders are routinely reported there as well.

But the phrase “fender-bender” implies a minor scrape, and every car owner knows even a small dent in a fender is likely to cost at least $1,000 to fix. That’s why it’s important that drivers are honest, and report accidents to the proper authorities, whether they’re the victims or the guilty parties.

Accidents in parking lots at NSU should be reported to NSUPD, those on Cherokee Nation property to the Marshal Service, and so on. But accidents on city property, or in private lots within the city limits, should be reported to the Tahlequah Police Department. Chief Clay Mahaney said that although TPD isn’t required by law to work a crash if the estimated damage is less than $500, officers will respond to all calls if requested.

It’s best to exchange information face-to-face, rather than leaving a name and number on the car, which could lead to identity theft. If the car’s owner isn’t around, go into the nearest business with the car’s tag number, and try to get help finding the owner. TPD can also assist in that regard, as well as in cases where both parties are present at the time of the accident, but it’s unclear who’s at fault. In these situations, both drivers should exchange license numbers, insurance information and phone numbers. Anyone who calls TPD about a parking lot accident has up to 72 hours to make and turn in a report. The TPD records department can provide a copy of the crash report for insurance purposes.

Funding and space limitations always stand in the way of parking accommodations, and aside from complaining publicly, there’s not much average Joes can do. But they can handle accidents with honesty and integrity, and contacting the cops is a good start. Then those involved can decide whether they want to involve insurance companies, or just handle “restitution” in the time-honored manner: with a handshake, and eventually, a check or cash.