Austin hit-and-run victim wonders why no charges filed months after crash

Joel Benson's motorcycle shows the aftermath of the crash on March 14, 2017. (Sarah Chambless)
Joel Benson's motorcycle shows the aftermath of the crash on March 14, 2017. (Courtesy/Sarah Chambless)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s going to take time — if it happens at all — until an Austin man is able to walk normally again.

The motorcycle Joel Benson was riding back in February smashed into a car that turned in front of him. Police say the car then drove off, leaving Benson in the road with a fractured skull and shattered knee that required metal plates and pins to put back together.

Months later, Benson’s workout three times a week is physical therapy to help get his leg back in shape. He uses a walker or cane to get around and has trouble even bending his right leg at the knee without discomfort.

“You have to get angry,” Benson said of staying motivated through therapy. “You have to fight.”

Five surgeries and nearly four months after the wreck that forced him into physical therapy, Benson’s angry about something else, too: No charges have been filed against the driver who didn’t stick around after the crash.

Benson has a copy of the police report filed in the case; it details what witnesses told officers and includes a diagram of the intersection of Pleasant Valley Road and Elmont Drive where the crash happened. “I was headed south” on Pleasant Valley, he pointed out on the diagram, “and this car was turning left” from that road onto Elmont.

He was headed back to his apartment.

“Never made it home,” Benson said. He doesn’t remember the crash. “And then she got the call.”

“I almost didn’t answer it, because it was late and I was already in bed and was expecting him home any minute,” Sarah Chambless, Benson’s wife, said. She got a ride to the hospital. “He had blood all over his face, blood coming out of his ear, so it was pretty scary.”

Thanks to witnesses who saw the license plate, the police report identified the owner of the car that hit Benson and that person’s address. In an email exchange, an Austin Police Department spokeswoman said police have “information on a possible suspect but criminal charges cannot be sought without being able to place a driver behind the wheel of the suspect vehicle.”

The detective working the case is waiting to hear back from witnesses to try to determine who was driving the car.

The report doesn’t place responsibility for the crash on either the driver or the rider, and clarifies that witnesses could not say who had the right of way or what color the lights were. But the investigator also notes contributing factors may include the car driver’s disregard of the stoplight, driver inattention and failure to yield right of way.

The report does not list any possible contributing factors stemming from the motorcycle.

Since the investigation is still active, the spokeswoman said, she could not say if detectives have made contact with the owner of the car or whether the vehicle had been reported stolen.

“I was left for dead in the street,” Benson said. “Why isn’t anyone answering questions?”

His bike is currently being fixed, as is his leg. It’ll take time, as will the investigation. Benson said he’s not looking for money from the driver; insurance, a fundraising website and an upcoming benefit concert have he and his wife pretty well covered.

“I’m looking for justice,” he said.

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