Earlier this year, Jalopnik commenters used their collective automotive knowledge to provide "critical" assistance to police in their investigation of a hit-and-run murder.
By identifying a small car piece that came off of a vehicle that struck and killed a woman, commenters aided police in apprehending two of the men involved.
Last week Travis and I visited the detectives who solved the case and accepted the Waynesboro, Virginia Police's Departmental Commendation Ribbon for "exceptional performance by a citizen" on behalf of the Jalopnik commenters. We also learned some specifics about the case.
Betty Wheeler was struck and killed by a vehicle while out for a walk in Waynesboro on the evening of April 7th. The driver of the vehicle fled, along with the two passengers. Local police didn't have many clues.
"With no witness to the Hit and Run and no leads, the media was called in to assist in the investigation by publishing a photo of a small silver part found at the scene," says Chief Michael Wilhelm.
When the bulletin went out asking for help in finding the vehicle, reader Steve Hicks sent the image and note to Jalopnik seeking information. Our commenters quickly managed to narrow down the small part to an early 2000s Ford F-150 pickup truck.
According to Detective K.S. Vance, who lead the investigation, they took the information we provided and matched up the piece with a similar truck owned by a police officer, confirming the commenters were correct.
Around the same time a tip came in identifying a truck that was possibly involved. That truck was also a Ford F-150. Armed with the knowledge provided by the commenters, Detective Vance was able to get a search warrant and arrest the suspects.
Two of the men involved were sentenced for felony hit-and-run after pleading guilty, a third suspect is on the run.
It was a small, but vital part of the investigation say the detectives we had the pleasure of visiting in the mountainside town in Central Virginia and it launched our To Catch A Car series, which has aided police in numerous other cases.
We were both honored to accept the award on behalf of our wonderful commenters and expressed our gratitude on their behalf to Detectives Vance and Meeks, as well as Chief Wilhelm, for the work they were doing. We're also grateful to Mr. Hicks, who also received a commendation.
In five years of doing this it was definitely one of my proudest moments.