Armenian Genocide, nearly a century later

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It has been 99 years since the Armenian Genocide began in full force, and while progress has been made to acknowledge the events, neither the United States nor Turkey want to talk about the killings and death marches. No matter. Evidence continues to show the suffering endured among Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks from 1915 to 1923. This week, the  Armenian Film Foundation gave J. Michael Hagopian’s collection of 400 interviews of Armenian Genocide survivors and witnesses to the USC Shoah Foundation. It is a powerful collection which includes an interview with Armin Wegner, a German soldier who photographed the horrors of the genocide and who later protested the crimes of the Turks. Above, a photo I took of a mural in Little Armenia in East Hollywood. Below, a photograph by Wegner of an Armenian woman carrying her child toward the desert and filmmaker Hagopian, who I had the honor of interviewing years before. Here is my story about the collection at USC (Daily News, March 21, 2012):

The question would forever link one crime against humanity to another.

“Our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy,” Adolf Hitler said in his 1939 speech to justify his proposed invasion of Poland.

“Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

More than 70 years after Hitler asked that question, the voices of Armenians who survived the Genocide that began in 1915 will join the testimonies of those who survived the Holocaust of World War II, as part of a collaboration between the Shoah Foundation Institute and the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Leadership Council.

“These testimonies exist because (the survivors) wanted the world to know that this happened,” said Stephen Smith, executive director for the Shoah Foundation Institute, at the University of Southern California.

The voices and images not only strengthen evidence that such atrocities occurred, but also will show how crimes against humanity are born out of bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance if gone unnoticed, Smith said.

Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994, the Shoah Foundation Institute includes more than 52,000 digitized testimonies of the survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. It took more than 15 years not only to record the accounts, but also to index them properly so that scholars, journalists and those serious about learning could find specific stories by name, birth place or experience.

The foundation is now conducting a similar project with more than 400 films made by J. Michael Hagopian. He was a small child when his mother hid him in a well from Turkish soldiers who raided the village of Kharberd in what was then Western Armenia, now part of Turkey.

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He survived and migrated to the United States and became a filmmaker who recorded the experience of Genocide survivors and witnesses.

Filmmaker Carla Garapedian, who worked with Hagopian and is leading the Armenian Film Foundation’s effort to digitize the work, called the availability of the accounts significant.

“This is the first time that Armenian Genocide interviews will be made available on such a wide network, so that universities around the world will be able to access them,” she said. “This is an important moment in terms of educating the public, from the point of view of survivors and witnesses. … In understanding genocide in that comparative way, we may be able to prevent it.”

An estimated 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915-23 in what has been called the first genocide of the 20th century.

The Turkish government maintains the deaths were a consequence of betrayal and civil unrest in what was then the Ottoman Empire.

Armenians, however, say the killings involved the systematic cleansing of Christians, which included Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.

But the word genocide has become politicized, with both the United States and Turkish governments refusing to call it such. Armenian-American activists have said the U.S. government won’t officially recognize the killings as genocide because it would hurt relations with Turkey, a NATO ally.

In an interview with the Daily News in 2010, months before his death, Hagopian said the accounts he filmed should be enough proof of what occurred.

“The evidence against Turkey is enormous,” Hagopian said. “The Germans have admitted what had happened (during the Holocaust). The Turks have to admit it so that there is remorse, and after that atonement and then forgiveness.

“They can’t kill babies and take wives and not face retribution.”

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Samples of survivor and witness testimonies include recollections of babies pulled from their mother’s arms by Turkish soldiers then thrown into the air, and caught by a bayonet at the end of a rifle. There are memories of bloodied bodies floating down a river, and the systematic torture of intellectuals.

What makes Hagopian’s films that much more connected to the testimonies to the Holocaust is that he was encouraged to record survivors’ accounts by Armin Wegner – a German soldier. Wegner was an Army medic who was stationed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. While there, he took hundreds of photographs documenting what was happening to the Armenians, which eventually resulted in his arrest. But he was able to sneak the photographs out.

Hagopian’s first film that related to the genocide was an interview with Wegner.

Both of their contributions, as well as the Shoah Foundation, will be honored at a gala and fundraiser on April 15 by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies’ Leadership Council. Funds raised will go toward the continued work of digitizing Hagopian’s footage.

“Wegner is very much a real symbol for what we’re doing,” Smith said. “Wegner was Hitler’s (symbolic) nemesis. He was there and photographed the Armenian Genocide. While Hitler is saying who now remembers the Armenians, Wegner says he remembers the Armenians.”

The digitalization process, which includes indexing key words in Hagopian’s films, should be completed in about two years, said Jerry Papazian, an advisory board member with the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Leadership Council.

“This (project) so defines who we are, this horrible thing that happened to our ancestors,” Papazian said. “Our theme has been `Don’t let their voices be forgotten’.”

The Shoah Foundation Institute also is working to archive witness accounts of the massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

The goal is to make people aware of what can happen if the world closes its eyes and turns its back.

“I’m delighted that the Armenian community trusts us with their personal community legacy,” Smith said. “Trust is the first step. When you don’t trust, that’s the breeding ground for bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance.”

 

Alzheimer’s affects an unexpected population

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One of the joys here at the L.A. Daily News is working alongside three women who are from Tierra del Sol, an organization that encourages adults with developmental disabilities to learn various skills and contribute to the community.  Marcella, Linda, and Laney, photographed above with Los Angeles News Group Publisher Ron Hasse, have worked at the Daily News for nearly 20 years, and they are a gift. Their smiles, laughter and kindness remind me of the importance of being content with the moment, as they often are. In chatting with them one day, I learned that they and others with developmental issues are aging and some are even in retirement. The fact that they are living longer shows how much medicines and education have helped prolong their lives, but it also means many are experiencing dementia, a side effect of a longer life in many of them. Below is part of  story I wrote about how programs for the aging men and women with developmental disabilities are few and far between (Daily News, 2012): 

NORTH HILLS – She had learned to care for herself, to work and count her money so she could buy food, set the table, tell time and use a phone to dial 911.

Now 60 years old, Denise Steinberg is forgetting the little things. She puts her blouse on backwards or her pants on inside out. Her attention span has dwindled. She is acting out toward her roommates.

“I’m seeing the signs more and more, and I’m freaking out because where is she going to go?” asks Terri Budow, Denise’s younger sister.

“I love her and I want her to be around people who care and who love her, too.”

Steinberg was born with a developmental disability at time when she and people like her expected to live only until they were 30 years old.

Now, she is part of an unexpected trend: Those with Down syndrome or other development disabilities are living longer, but in some cases, not necessarily better. More than 90 percent of those with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease by the time they are in their late 40s.

“This is something the community has never had to deal with before,” said Roschell Ashley, director for residential services for New Horizons.

The nonprofit New Horizons formed in the San Fernando Valley in 1954 to help those with developmental disabilities learn life skills, find employment and receive housing.

But a new need has emerged.

As their clients age, New Horizons saw that its group homes were not adequate for elder clients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Of the nearly 700 clients the agency serves, more than half are 40 years or older.

So in 2008, the agency began plans for a six-bedroom group home just for those with Down syndrome who develop Alzheimer’s, one of only a handful in California and nationwide.

The nonprofit bought a plot of land in Reseda and the $1.2 million home is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013.

“These clients become totally dependent and need special care,” Ashley said. “The home will be equipped with everything, even lifts.”

But the increasing need will no doubt outgrow that home, she said.

The number of people who seek assistance through the California Department of Developmental Services increased by 60 percent from 1997 to 2007.

“What is going to be a challenge in this subgroup population is they will have nowhere to go, because their caregivers are aging, and their siblings are not around,” said Dr. Sikander Kajani, who specializes in geriatrics and is with Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

 

Am I crazy, or….

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…should the story below about how hospitals in California held back using medication on flu patients have been on the front page? When I pitched this story a few times, I felt like no one listened to me. It was published on page 4. I had to move on to other stories, but it still bothers me (Daily News, Feb. 24,  2013):

Among dozens of patients who died of influenza in California this season, many were denied antiviral medications within the first 48 hours after being admitted to a hospital, according to a federal report.

The national report released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “in most cases, antiviral treatment was not given as soon as recommended.”

The data was provided to the CDC by the California Department of Public Health.

Of the first 80 deaths reported in California, 74 had underlying medical conditions known to increase the risk of severe influenza. But of 47 who were hospitalized and later died, only 8 — or 17 percent — received antiviral treatment within the recommended time of 48 hours.

“Empiric antiviral treatment should be promptly initiated when influenza virus infection is suspected in hospitalized patients, despite negative results from rapid diagnostic tests,” according to the CDC report.

The report came a day before the state’s Department of Public Health released new totals in deaths due to influenza. So far, 278 people have died of flu in California compared to 106 for all of last year. Those deaths do not include those 65 and older, so a true picture is unknown. Most cases are due to the H1N1 strain, the same one that killed 203,000 worldwide in 2009.

 Dr. Gil Chavez, an epidemiologist with the state public-health department, said via email Thursday that there were various reasons why a patient may not receive treatment on time, including access to medical care, timing of doctors’ visits, delayed recognition of an influenza-like illness and late identification of an influenza virus infection.

But he emphasized that caregivers should not wait for the results of tests to confirm flu is present before beginning medication.

“Hospitalized patients suspected to have influenza should be started on antiviral therapy as soon as possible, and treatment should not await confirmatory testing,” Chavez said.

The CDC report also found that flu vaccination rates were low.

Meanwhile, state officials said Friday that they are also concerned about the spread of measles. There are 15 confirmed cases of measles so far this year, compared with two last year. State officials said it was believed measles had been eliminated in 2000.

“Unfortunately, we are off to a very bad start in 2014,” Chavez said. Cases have occurred throughout California in six counties, including five in Los Angeles and three in Riverside.

Three of the 15 who were infected had traveled to the Philippines, and two traveled to India. Both are countries where measles continues to be a public-health concern. Five cases remain under investigation, and seven individuals had not been vaccinated under the personal-beliefs exemption. All were 5 months to 40 years of age, Chavez said.

In California, about 92 percent of all children have had measles vaccines by age 3. Less than 3 percent have gone unvaccinated due to parents choosing the personal-belief option, according to the public health department.

105-year-old Lakers fan to Kobe Bryant: take off your sunglasses so I can see you better

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As 2013 comes to an end,  I think about some of those who I wrote about who passed away. I first met Allene Wynn in 2012, when she was about to turn 105 years old.  I sat with her in her living room with photographer David Crane and her enthusiasm for life and the Los Angeles Lakers not only struck me, but also readers.  Her passion for the Lakers and my story garnered Wynn unexpected national attention. For her 105th birthday, Wynn was invited to a Lakers game and came face-to-face with Kobe Bryant. She reportedly told Bryant: “You guys haven’t been playing well enough to suit me.” She then told him to take of his sunglasses “so I can see you better.” Wynn passed away on Aug. 12, 2013.    From my story (Daily News,  March 20, 2013):

PACOIMA – As her 105th birthday approaches, Allene Wynn admits that time has nibbled away at some of the details of her life.

She struggles to remember bits and pieces of her childhood in Arkansas. She raised 10 children, but it’s difficult for her to recall how many grandkids she has. She has some recollections of working in a nursing home in Panorama City, but she can’t quite pinpoint the year she first came out to California.

Yet there are some things she knows as clear as day:

That a little bit of sugar on green beans or on oatmeal hasn’t ruined her health so far.

That she wants to live as long as the good Lord will allow.

And that if she met Kobe Bryant in person, she’d tell him straight out that he’s been playing a mighty weak game these days.

“I’d ask him why he ain’t playin’ no better,” said Wynn with a hearty laugh. “The Lakers are making me mad. If I was able, I bet I could win.”

Wynn has been watching the Lakers ever since Wilt, Magic, and Kareem dribbled and dunked their way to greatness at the Los Angeles Forum. She can rattle off facts about each player with an almanac-like precision.

She’s such a Lakers fan, that when she receives her newspaper each morning at the Pledgerville Senior Citizen Villa where she lives, she flips through the sports section, cuts out the photographs of Kobe, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher (until his recent trade) and others, and tapes them up to a wall of her apartment.

“Miss Wynn does not miss a game,” said Claudette Jones, the manager at Pledgerville. “Whenever the Lakers are on, don’t bother her. If they’ve lost, she’ll tell you exactly why.”

Born on March 27, 1907 in Nashville, Arkansas, Wynn is not only the oldest resident at Pledgerville, but she was one of its first residents when it opened in Pacoima in the mid-1980s.

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A birthday celebration in her honor, as well as for all other residents born this month will be held on March 30.

“She’s a very caring person,” Jones said. “She loves to cook, and she’ll call when she wants to share.”

When people ask Wynn what has been the biggest change she’s witnessed in her life, she’ll say it’s a lack of love among people.

“People don’t have a natural affection for each other anymore,” Jones said Wynn tells people. “That is one of the things she has observed.”

Leroy Geter, the CEO of Pledgerville and president of the board of directors, said that while Wynn has likely witnessed many social and historical events, she’s more likely to offer a witty perspective, telling people she has spent half her life minding her own business, and the other half not getting in the business of others.

“She’s got a sense of humor, and I’ve grown to love her and value her as a member of the Pledgerville community,” Geter said.

On a wall opposite the one with all the Lakers clips, hang several awards Wynn has received for her community service.

“Those awards are a testament to her love and commitment to the community,” Geter said. “I wish young people could sit at her feet, and ask her to tell them some of those stories they could benefit from in terms of longevity and how to treat your fellow man.”

But a few months ago, Geter, Jones, and others said they worried about Wynn’s emotional health after her daughter, Dorothy, passed away. Dorothy Wynn, known as Dot, was Wynn’s oldest daughter, and a frequent visitor and volunteer at Pledgerville.

“She was a great person just like her mother,” Geter said. “She loved her mother, and her mother loved her.”

But Geter said Wynn’s zest for life, her love of the color red, her recipes, her Lakers, and her sense of humor have all been her saving grace.

“Don’t tell Miss Wynn she isn’t a Lakers fan and expect to live,” Geter said.

Wynn said she’s felt like she’s had a happy life.

Along with her awards hang dozens of photographs of herself with her sons and daughters and grandchildren, and even the kids of families she once cared for.

“I have grandchildren and more grandchildren,” she said. “I think there are some I haven’t even met yet.”

When she turned 100, Wynn said she didn’t feel any different than when she was in her 90s. Aside from a little trouble walking, Wynn only takes one pill a day for her high blood pressure.

She has no secret to living a long life, she said, except that she eats what she wants, likes to play Bingo and the scratchers, enjoys casinos and dining at Hometown Buffet.

She also loves to cook, especially peach cobbler and pound cake. She guards those recipes with her life, those who know her say.

“She eats all the wrong things,” said her caregiver, Anna Jean Robinson.

“Her favorite thing to eat is something sweet,” Robinson said. “She’ll put sugar on everything.”

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“Well, if it ain’t done me no harm and I’m still here, I can still eat it,” Wynn responded.

And as for reaching 105, well, that’s just a number, Wynn said.

“I don’t care how old I am `cuz I’m not ready to die,” Wynn said. “I love life. I want to live as long as I can. I want to live as long as the Lord will let me stay here.”

And she’d like to meet Kobe and the Lakers for her birthday, not just to give them a good tongue lashing for the way they’ve been playing lately, but also to thank them for some exciting games.

“Kobe has too much on his mind,” she said. “He ain’t playin’ right, but you can’t blame him for everything.”

 

California docs earn millions from Big Pharma

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One of my favorite assignments this year was working with ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism. The reporters there not only produce their own award winning stories, but they also provide reporters from other media outlets with a searchable database. It’s up to us to plug in names and locations to find trends. I looked through hundreds of names throughout Los Angeles County to find the doctors who were being paid top dollar by pharmaceutical companies to attend lectures. The discovery led to a question only one doctor would answer: is there a conflict of interest? From my story (Daily News, March 10, 2013–the online version is unedited. The portion below is the edited version that ran in the paper).

Drug money runs deep in the Golden State.

It comes from the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies and leads to a mental health clinic in Granada Hills, an anesthesiologist’s office in Santa Monica, and to a cardiologist with practices in Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach.

In fact, hundreds of physicians, psychiatrists, and medical school faculty members across California are on the payroll of major drug companies, earning tens of thousands of dollars for speaking to other medical professionals at events held by industry leaders that make drugs such as Advair, Cymbalta, Viagra and Zoloft.

From 2009 to 2012, California doctors who participated were paid $242million – the most in the nation – by major drug companies for research, speaking, consulting, trips and meals, according to a new database released Monday by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization.

The disclosures have been listed on the websites of some drug companies for several years, but a federal mandate will require it for companies by 2014.

Analysts from ProPublica gathered names of physicians, the amount they were paid, and the services they rendered – data listed on websites of 15 of the largest pharmaceutical companies, which make up 47 percent of U.S. drug sales.

The data show that speaking about diseases for a drug company has become a lucrative moonlighting gig for those in the medical profession locally and across the nation.
But while the practice of speaking is not illegal, it raises the question of conflict of interest: Is the drug being given to you because you need it, or because the doctor writing out the prescription is paid by Big Pharma?

The database also shows that about half of the top earners are from a single specialty: psychiatry, according to findings by ProPublica.

“It boggles my mind,” Dr. James H. Scully Jr., chief executive of the American Psychiatric Association, told a reporter from ProPublica, referring to the big money paid to some psychiatrists for what are billed as educational talks.

Paid speaking “is perfectly legal, and if people want to work for drug companies, this is America,” said Scully, whose specialty has often been criticized for its over-reliance on medications. “But everybody needs to be clear – this is marketing.”

Dr. Arthur Chanzel Jeng, an infection-control specialist at UCLA-Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar who was paid $80,500 last year by Pfizer for speaking engagements, defended the practice, saying the lectures serve an educational purpose.

“Pharmaceutical companies used to take doctors to dinner, but that was banned years ago,” Jeng said in an interview with the Los Angeles News Group.

“Now they must provide some educational content.”

He and others in his field are concerned about drug-resistant diseases and the limited number of antibiotics. Drug companies have little incentive to produce new antibiotics, he said, so if they do, physicians in his field want to know more about the drugs. That’s why he agrees to speak.

“We (speakers) provide education when a new antibiotic does get released,” he said. “There needs to be education among doctors on how to use this new antibiotic.”
Jeng said Pfizer is never mentioned by name at the events. Internal monitors attend the engagements to make sure, because of past litigation against the company. He also said he does not feel pressured to administer medications solely made by Pfizer.

“A lot of the lectures are in university settings. It’s part of our job description,” he said. “We don’t take samples.”

 

How bow-chicka-wow-wow stole my thunder

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I’ve covered the adult film industry for almost five years now because the San Fernando Valley is home to the nation’s best known studios. The latest issue is how the new condom law, known as Measure B and passed by voters in 2012, has impacted production at Vivid, Wicked, and other well known sites in Los Angeles County.  I’ve written about Measure B so many times that I wanted to have a little fun with it. There were consequences, though: Too many people focused on my use of “bow-chicka-wow-wow”  and didn’t realize there was some actual news in my report. The result: The Times followed my story a week later with a straight news lede, and they were given credit by TV and radio. Ah well. That’s show biz, kid.  From my article  (Daily News, Nov. 4. 2013):

The pretty blonde with no name answers the door wearing scarlet lip gloss and an innocent smile.

She’d called the pizza man only a few minutes before. She just didn’t expect him to arrive so quickly, she tells him in a sweet, girl-next-door drawl.

Pizza crashes to the floor. Shirts rip off. Zippers tear open. Bow-chicka-wow-wow, and it’s a wrap.

That was once a common cinematic scene in Chatsworth, as well as across the San Fernando Valley and all over Los Angeles County. But not anymore.

That’s because a thin layer of latex has produced more drama than sex in Los Angeles’ porn industry over the last 12 months. Since voters approved Measure B a year ago, requiring adult-film performers to wear condoms during sex scenes shot in L.A. County, those in the industry say there has been a shift in where porn is made. And the long-term effect on the county’s economy, adult-industry leaders say, has yet to be determined.

“Fewer people are shooting (adult film) in L.A. County, and some have moved to other areas around California or other states,” said Diane Duke, the executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade group for the industry.

In most years, there are up to 500 permits filed from adult-film studios with FilmL.A., the nonprofit that processes permits for motion picture, television and commercial production across Los Angeles. This year, a total of 24 have been filed, a FilmL.A. spokesman said.

Measure B also requires that adult-film studios apply for public-health permits. Eleven health permits were requested by adult-film studios so far this year, a spokesman with the county’s Department of Public Health said.

The industry — which has been estimated to be worth $6 billion in California and $11 billion nationwide — creates about 10,000 production jobs in the county, including makeup, lighting, carpentry, transportation, food service, payroll, web design and acting. “The industry is resilient and will continue,” Duke added. “The question is where.”

Vivid Entertainment, founded in 1984 and now one of the largest production studios in the adult-film industry, has gone outside L.A. County for some of its productions since the law took effect, said co-founder Steven Hirsch.

“We will not be shooting in L.A. under the current situation, which is too bad,” Hirsch said. “There’s a uniqueness to L.A. you can’t find anywhere such as backdrops. It’s also impacted us financially because shooting outside the county can become more expensive.”

Vivid filed suit late last year challenging Measure B, and while a federal court judge denied its request for an injunction, he also delivered a mixed ruling saying that making actors wear condoms during porn shoots doesn’t violate the First Amendment, but enforcing such a law raises constitutional questions. Vivid filed an appeal, which is still pending.

Hirsch and others said there has never been a single case of HIV contracted while shooting in the industry in the last eight years, noting performers are satisfied with the testing standards in place. The standards require performers to be tested for various sexually transmitted diseases every 15 to 30 days, then provide producers with proof of the results.

“We are not against condoms. We are just pro-choice,” Hirsch said. “The industry is immersed in this legal battle, and it is as an industry we’re fighting.”

Left for dead: L.A. leads in hit and runs

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Hit and run accidents in Los Angeles  County are an epidemic. There are about 20,000 cases each year. Not all result in fatalities, but of those that do, the cases are difficult to solve because the suspects are either drunk or undocumented, unlicensed drivers.  I looked into the issue for this story that ran in the Daily News (March 8, 2006).. The photo above by photographer Michael Owen Baker is of Doug Gregory, an EMT who was hit while assisting an accident victim on the side of the freeway. A motorist in a Datsun sideswiped Gregory and left him for dead. From my story:

Somewhere out there is the woman whose beat-up sedan crashed into flesh and bone one night just before Christmas and then sped away, leaving Elias Geha to die on a Glendale street.

“If I find the person, I would say: At least have some decency to stop by and say, ‘I’m sorry, it was an accident,”’ said John Balta, Geha’s brother-in-law.

“If it was a mistake, that’s fine. But how can someone live like that? How can they sleep at night? If you hit a dog, you feel so sorry for the dog. But this was a human being.” The driver, who police believe is a woman, and thousands of others have given California the dishonorable distinction of having the nation’s highest rate of hit-and-run collisions, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Last year, 8,325 hit-and-run collisions were reported on San Fernando Valley streets, a 2 percent increase from 2004. An additional 700 hit- and-run crashes occurred on freeways that run through the Valley, officials said.

 While most of the crashes do not result in injuries, Geha and nine other Valley residents lost their lives last year – all of those cases unsolved. Because overwhelmed law enforcement typically moves on to more pressing cases, many families of the victims are left forever wondering what happened.

 Gary Bladow, one of two investigators with the California Highway Patrol’s Valley station, said the high number of cases points to many motorists’ “lack of wanting to take responsibility.”

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of those who do it don’t come forward,” Bladow said. “My desk is full of cases. In the four years that I’ve been here, I’ve never had an empty desk.”

 The Los Angeles Police Department’s Valley Traffic Division says unlicensed or drunk drivers are those most likely to flee the scene of a crash.

To prevent those types of crashes, the division has targeted those motorists, last year impounding 11,493 cars from unlicensed drivers and arresting 2,951 motorists for driving while intoxicated, an 18 percent increase from 2004.

 “We led the city,” Capt. Ronald Marbrey said. “We are committed to bringing drunk drivers in.”

 LAPD Detective Bill Bustos said hit-and-run drivers rarely surrender, but when they do, they often say the same thing.

 “They say they were scared and they didn’t know what to do, and they panicked and they fled,” he said. “But it would be a lot better if motorists knew the law. They have a responsibility to stop. It becomes a crime when they flee.”

 Under California law, a driver involved in any incident resulting in injury or death must stop immediately and report the crash, or face a felony violation that can lead to up to four years in county jail and up to a $10,000 fine.

 Those who damage property and run can be charged with a misdemeanor leading to up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.

 Hit-and-runs also have increased steadily in Glendale, where police have dedicated two investigators solely to those crashes.

 Detectives say they are close to finding the motorist who hit and killed Geha, who would have turned 69 on Christmas Eve and planned to retire from his job as a security guard at the end of 2005. His family has set up a $10,000 reward. Geha’s employer, Farmers Insurance, has matched that amount.

 “We believe we know who the suspect is,” Glendale police Detective Matt Gunnell said. “She is a fugitive. We’re working very hard to find her.”

 But for those who lose someone to the crime, the pain never stops, said Reseda resident Vincent Ballajadia, who lost his mother to a hit-and-run driver.

 Gloria Ballajadia, 75, died Dec. 18 of injuries suffered Nov. 5 when she was struck by a white or silver hatchback at Alvarado and Temple streets in Los Angeles while returning home from playing bingo.

 “There’s not one minute every day when I don’t think about my mom, how we had these happy times,” said Ballajadia, 37. “It’s very devastating when people don’t care, when they think they can just hit somebody and speed away.”

 Ballajadia said police have offered few answers, and he has lost hope of ever finding the culprits.

 “All I have left are memories and videotapes of all the good times with the family,” he said. “Every time I look at those tapes, I feel like I’m dreaming.

 “I have a message for the killers: They took away someone who is dear to the family. It’s not like a cat or puppy they ran over. This is a person who lived 75 years on this Earth and made a big impact.”

 For those injured in a hit-and-run, the accident is often life-changing.

 Doug Gregory, 21, has a hole behind his right knee, a scar so deep doctors considered skin grafts. The injuries could quash his dream of becoming a firefighter.

 As an emergency medical technician, he has seen firsthand the result of hit-and-run accidents. But at 7 a.m. Jan. 2, he became a victim of one while attending to a crash scene near the eastbound 118 Freeway interchange. A gray pickup truck slammed into his legs, then another car, before hitting a soundwall, spinning out and then continuing on, sputtering smoke.

 “I was knocked out for a few minutes,” Gregory said from his Woodland Hills home, where he sat propped up against pillows, his right leg in a brace. “My head was lying in the slow lane, and I could see cars go by just a foot away.”

 In a strange way, the unidentified driver might have done him a favor.

 Gregory had enlisted in the Marines. The day after he was hit, he would have gone off to boot camp, and maybe into the war zones of Iraq. He has decided to go to college instead.

 “I’m not angry. I’m just so grateful I’m alive and breathing and walking,” he said. “I just wish the person would come forward and take responsibility, so it won’t happen again to someone else.”