The San Diego Police Department counts instances of drivers fleeing accidents that occur on city streets. Through May of this year, there were 13 felony hit-and-run cases, compared with 5 during the same period in 1999. Last year's total of 23 felony hit-and-run cases compares with 29 in 1998. There are about 4000 misdemeanor hit-and-run cases annually.
The Toyota's driver would not discuss the accident except to say, "I had no culpability in that."
Eyewitnesses who saw the Toyota Camry run over Wallman said other cars honked to get the driver to stop. But "the elderly white female with white hair in big curls" continued driving as she looked repeatedly in her rearview mirror. Concerned about damage to her car, the driver later stopped along Sea World Drive to check. A woman who stopped to help the elderly driver informed her about "a bad crash" nearby.
The description of the driver's actions and, more significantly, her inaction of not stopping initially is contained in a California Highway Patrol traffic-collision report based on statements from the driver, several eyewitnesses, and people who knew Wallman. On hearing a television news report about the accident, the driver "thought that the bang she heard may have been the body hitting her car," the report states. "She related that whole day that she was nervous and could not sleep well that night. With all this information in her head, she did not call the police to report that she was possibly involved. She stated that she did not have any responsibility."
On November 19, four days later, a relative informed the driver that the California Highway Patrol was looking for a beige Toyota Camry. At that point, she called the police. Because so much time had elapsed, the California Highway Patrol had no choice but to recommend charges, Gregg said. "People aren't necessarily charged with hit-and-run if they call right away," he said. "Sometimes people hear a noise as they're driving on the freeway at night. They're not sure if they've struck something, but they call to let us know."
It would be difficult for any driver to avoid striking someone who drops suddenly to the road from the sky, several insurance and legal experts said. "Her problem isn't that she hit the body," said Terry Newman, president of Collision Technologies in Vista. "Her problem is she fled the scene. The D.A. will probably look at her age and the circumstances. They'll probably offer her a misdemeanor. If it were you or me, they would prosecute to the nth degree," he said, noting prosecutors are reluctant to incarcerate elderly people.
Wilson was disappointed to learn from the patrol's report that the driver cared enough about her car to stop, while apparently disregarding what she might have hit. Though the two women have never met, Wilson occasionally thinks about the elderly driver and is reminded of her own mother, whose death from cancer last year troubled Wallman. Magnanimous in her grief, Wilson said, "I don't want them to prosecute someone that age, but I think it might be beneficial to take away her driver's license.... It's so strange that it's a little old lady who hits my son, a little old lady who's about the same age as my mother."
Was Wallman still alive after he soared through the air and bounced off the iceplant, which blunted his fall to the asphalt?
The Medical Examiner's report is inconclusive. Following a description of Wallman's many "rapidly fatal injuries," Dr. Christina Stanley wrote, "It cannot be determined at autopsy whether it was injuries inflicted as a result of the ejection from the vehicle as the result of the primary crash, a subsequent impact, or combination of these which resulted in the death." On learning that her athletic son was still breathing at UCSD Medical Center more than a half hour after the crash, Wilson feels strongly that he might have survived had he not suffered the final trauma of being run over.
One finding was conclusive. Stanley detected methamphetamine in Wallman's body -- leading her to speculate, "This acute intoxication may have contributed to the cause of the initial crash." The amount of the highly addictive and euphoric drug was enough for the California Highway Patrol to amend the traffic collision report and label Wallman's accident "DUI," or "driving under the influence." However, evidence of drug use, Gregg said, wouldn't prevent the California Highway Patrol from pursuing the driver of the white Mustang if that driver were identified, nor would it prompt the patrol to reverse its recommendation that the Toyota's driver be charged with hit-and-run.
The Medical Examiner's finding did not surprise Wilson. Since her mother died in April 1999, she noticed a change in her son. He seemed worried. He lost weight. He became secretive. He spoke more rapidly. His skin broke out in small bumps. He acquired a new interest: driving fast cars. In a strange way the toxicology report summarized the final months of Wallman's life, which previously had been drug free, friends say. In his final months, while taking meth, Wallman was coping with a variety of concerns, ranging from his grandmother's death to, ironically, a prior car accident in which he had been victimized by a drunk driver. Perhaps in his final moments, Wallman felt relief. He was speeding on speed.
Wilson would have preferred no autopsy, but it is standard procedure in car fatalities. Her preference wasn't so much that she didn't want the whole world to learn from a public record what her son's friends, coworkers, and relatives already knew: that Wallman was indulging in meth. It's just that, as the next of kin, Wilson would have liked some consideration, some courtesy. As a Native American who shared that heritage with her son and late mother, Wilson views the autopsy as further desecration of Wallman's body.
The toxicology report gave Wilson another lesson to extract from her son's death besides the perils of drag racing. "I'm torn between protecting my son's name and trying to help people. Meth is prevalent in San Diego, but people may not know how dangerous it is," Wilson said. While Medical Examiner records indicate several people die each month from overdoses, there are no statistics on fatal accidents resulting from the drug. "My son came from having everything to losing everything."