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Family seeks hit-and-run driver

Lake Orion resident Derek Luke (center), the victim of a Feb. 17 hit-and-run in downtown Oxford, is surrounded by his support system, which includes (from left) longtime girlfriend Kristi Torretti, uncle Dan Reynolds and father Scot Luke. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
April 03, 2013 - Broken, bleeding and facing the possibility of death as he laid unconscious on the cold black asphalt of M-24.

That's how some unknown driver left Derek Luke following a Feb. 17 hit-and-run accident in downtown Oxford.

"I don't know how someone could look in their rearview mirror, see somebody laying there and just keep going, not knowing if they're dead or alive," said the Lake Orion resident, who will turn 29 on April 6.

"I'm not oblivious to the world that we live in. I know there's people out there that really don't care. But personally, I would never be able to do it."

Derek is lucky to be alive as he celebrated Easter Sunday in his wheelchair with his jaw wired shut and his pelvis containing long screws attached to an external framework.

Although he's still in a significant amount of pain, Derek is definitely on the road to recovery thanks to his doctors and the tireless support of a very loving network of family and friends.

But his family still longs for something that medical science cannot give them – the person responsible for all this.

"If you're reading this, just come forward," said Kristi Torretti, Derek's longtime girlfriend and the mother of his 5-year-old daughter, Mara Luke.

"I feel like there needs to be justice and closure. I don't want the guy (or woman) to sit in jail for life, but I want him to know that the choice to leave (the accident scene) and not come back has impacted a lot of people."

Derek's father, Scot Luke, who came all the way from Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula to care for his son, really wants "closure for our family."

"I just need this person to understand they did more than run over a person – it's the lives they affected," he said. "It's tearing everybody up. This person that hit him doesn't realize how many people this has affected."

People like little Mara, who's a kindergartner at Pine Tree Elementary in Lake Orion.

Kristi said she's "petrified" to ride in the car after the sun goes down.

"If we're out, she'll ask, 'Are we going to be home by dark? I can't be in the car at night – that's when accidents happen,'" Kristi said.

Scot is upset about all the precious father-daughter time that Derek is losing.

"When is he going to be able to go swimming with his daughter or push her on her bicycle? The things a normal guy would do," he said. "That's what's killing me is the family thing. (The person who hit Derek) doesn't see how deep this goes."

Doctors estimate that Derek should be able to walk again, without any type of assistance, by about August.

"I want this person caught and I want them to understand what they did and what this is doing to us," Scot said. "This isn't going to be over in a week or two, or even a month. We've got a long row to hoe here."

"We're not looking for revenge," noted Derek's uncle, Dan Reynolds, of Caseville. "It's not about revenge. It's about taking responsibility for your actions . . . We don't want to destroy him (or her), but we want him (or her) to be responsible, to know that we're suffering."

That's why on March 29, Reynolds and others started putting up flyers all over Oxford and Lake Orion offering a reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever was driving the light-colored (white, silver or tan) Buick Rendezvous that slammed into his nephew. About 75 flyers have been put up so far and more are coming.

"We know it's a long shot, but we're doing our best to make sure that people see it," Reynolds said. "It might only be one person – somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody. But that's what we're hoping for – information."

Reynolds is grateful to all the establishments that allowed him to post flyers.

"Every place I went to, people were receptive," he said. "People took more than one flyer. They think this was wrong and we need to find this guy."

"Or gal," Scot added.

To help entice someone to come forward, a $1,000 reward is being offered. "That's going to grow," said Scot, who noted he'll start at $1,000 and add to it with donations.

Anyone with information is asked to please call Scot Luke at (906) 396-5900 or the Oxford Village Police at (248) 628-2581 and ask for Officer Clint Ascroft.

When asked what he would say to the individual who hit him and fled, Derek replied, "I'm not holding any grudge against them. I really haven't even thought about it. It's really the least of my concerns right now, to be honest with you."

The accident

Derek, Kristi and three friends had finished dinner at the Ox Bar & Grill when they decided to go across street to have a few drinks at The Oxford Tap. They began crossing M-24 (S. Washington St.), just north of the Dennison St. intersection, at approximately 12:20 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17.

"One of his friends had already crossed the road," Kristi said. "Me and two of his other friends were behind him. He looked back at me and said, 'C'mon. Are you coming?'"

"All of the sudden," a southbound Buick Rendezvous came speeding "out of nowhere" and crashed right into Derek.

"I saw Derek just flying in the air and he landed smack on his back," Kristi said. "The car just kept going."

She described Derek as covered in blood from "head to toe."

"I can't believe somebody would do something like this and be able to live with (it) everyday – knowing they hit somebody and not knowing the outcome," Kristi said.

Derek remembers looking both ways and crossing the street because it was clear, but not the accident itself.

"(Kristi) was slipping on the (pavement) – it was a little slick – so I asked if she was okay. I went to turn around and that's the last thing I remember," he said. "The next thing I know I was in the ambulance."

According to Derek's family, the police told them that another driver witnessed the accident and followed the Buick Rendezvous all the way to Lake Orion, but lost the vehicle when it turned left onto E. Flint St., which runs through the downtown and eventually becomes Orion Rd.

"He couldn't keep up with him and he couldn't read (the license plate) because he was zigzagging," Scott said. "So, the guy knew he was being followed."

A piece of the Buick Rendezvous was obtained by police at the accident scene. It's believed the vehicle sustained damage to the grill, windshield and hood.

The aftermath

As a result of the accident, Derek sustained multiple, severe fractures to his pelvis, face, back and leg along with multiple internal injuries, including life-threatening ones such bleeding between his brain and skull.

These injuries required Derek to undergo multiple surgeries including a nine-hour reconstruction procedure on his face. He still has another three surgeries to go.

Although he's healing now, he's still in a lot of pain. "He goes through this Oxycodone like you wouldn't believe," Scot said. "He's got Fentanyl patches, too."

When asked how he's feeling, Derek replied, "Everything considered, not too bad. If it wasn't for this jaw issue, it would be a lot better. A lot of soreness."

Derek spent about four weeks in the hospital, then went to a hotel because his second-floor condominium wasn't handicapped accessible. He actually had to move into a new ground-floor condo just down the street. He's been there since March 26.

At home, he still requires 24-7 care, which his family is providing.

Derek's been racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, but fortunately, he has health insurance coverage through his employer Anthelio, which is based in Dallas, Texas. Anthelio provides information technology and business process services to hospitals, physician practice groups and other healthcare providers. Derek works as a clinical analyst.

Given Derek was a very physically active and healthy young man prior to the accident – he was part of the 2001 state champion Iron Mountain High School football team – his limitations are difficult to deal with.

"It's killing me," he said. "I've got to sit in this condo all day, every day. I can't get outside. I can't go to the gym. I can't go places with my friends. I can't do anything. It's driving me nuts."

The investigation

Overall, Scot has not been pleased with the response he's received from the village police department.

He was upset that two weeks after the accident occurred, he had to go to the police station to find out what was being done.

"Nobody stopped (by the hospital) to see what kind of shape this kid's really in," Scot said. "I told the detective, 'I'm his father and I've not heard a word from any of you guys.'"

Scot is extremely frustrated by the lack of communication he claims to have experienced.

"Me and other friends, we'd see a Buick Rendezvous with front-end damage, we'd take down the license plate number and send it in," he said. "They'd never get back to me on leads."

"I call there and no one's ever around," he noted. "They never call me back. Absolutely no communication, no help. I'm totally disappointed with that outfit and disgusted."

One night, Scot and his wife were at the K-mart store in Lake Orion, when they noticed a Buick Rendezvous with front right-end damage in the parking lot by Hollywood Market.

"I wrote down the license plate and called the cops – it's like 9 o'clock at night. The next morning, I get a hold of the detective and ask him if anything came from that lead I called in last night and he says, 'I don't know anything about it.' He said, 'Well, they knew I was elbow-deep changing a hot water tank last night.'"

Scot has basically lost faith in the local cops and decided to pursue this on his own.

"I don't believe they're doing a thing, so I've got a private investigator on it," he said. "I'm more confident now that I've got him.

"We want justice and he's going to dig into it and see what he can find."

Police Chief Mike Neymanowski assured this reporter his agency's been doing everything possible and continues to work the case.

As part of the investigation, the village police got a list of all the Buick Rendezvous registered in this area. "We were up to 400-some," Neymanowski said. "We've followed up on about 50 of them so far."

The department's also been checking into whether anyone's had a Rendezvous repaired for damages consistent with the hit-and-run.

"(Officer) Clint (Ascroft) has been in touch with probably at least a half-dozen bump shops in the area," Neymanowski said. "We followed up on about two or three (Rendezvous) that had some front-end damage, but it was substantiated that they weren't involved."

"Clint's taking it personally. He's really working on it a lot," the chief added. "I give him time (away) from his regular patrol duties to go out and do his follow-up."

Neymanowski is hopeful that someone with information about the unknown driver or vehicle will come forward.

The chief noted he understands the family's frustration. "For a small agency, we're putting a lot of time and effort in this," he said. "They don't understand that, but that's fine. I'd probably be the same way if (my) son was hurt."

Loads of support

The one bright spot in this whole mess is that it's shown Derek and his family that they're not alone. "It's amazing, the community support," Reynolds said.

A mother from Mara's school, someone whom Kristi has never met, started delivering meals three days a week to Derek and his family. "She's so helpful," she said.

A grandfather from Mara's school has a moving business and he sent two young men over to move all the heavy stuff from Derek's old condo to his new one.

"When I tried to pay them, they wouldn't take any money," Scott said.

Derek's extremely grateful for all the support he's received from family, friends and strangers. "I wouldn't have been able to get this far without it. That's for sure," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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