Painstaking probe leads to arrest of driver in hit-and-run that may leave teen disabled - The Buffalo News

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Painstaking probe leads to arrest of driver in hit-and-run that may leave teen disabled

Sixteen-year-old Devaughn Moore was making his way home after filling out a job application to work in a coffee shop at Erie County Medical Center when a car struck him on Main Street in the Parkside neighborhood.

The driver sped away, leaving Devaughn crumpled on the road with a critical head injury. Tuesday, nearly five weeks later, he was released from Women & Children’s Hospital and is now learning how to walk again.

Wednesday, Buffalo city accident investigators arrested Kevin A. Ford, a 23-year-old city garbage collector on disability, and charged him with leaving the scene of a serious physical injury accident and falsely reporting the car involved in the accident as having been stolen.

The car, which belongs to Ford’s fiancée, Amherst resident Taylor Brown, was driven to a field off Ninth Street in Niagara Falls and set on fire hours after the hit-and-run accident on the night of Feb. 3, police said.

When Niagara Falls police responded to the car fire, it was not known that the vehicle was being sought in the accident, which occurred shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Main near Morris Avenue.

It would take an extensive investigation by three police agencies before Ford was confronted with the evidence and tearfully confessed that he was the driver who had fled after striking the Lafayette High School student as he walked across Main.

The key piece of evidence was the shell of a shattered gray rear-view mirror recovered from the scene, according to Lt. Thomas J. Leatherbarrow, commander of the city’s Accident Investigation Unit.

Senior Accident Investigator Martin Forero and Accident Investigators Keith S. LaFalce and Santos V. Diaz sought assistance from Amherst Senior Accident Investigator Scott A. Lawida, who is regarded as an area expert in broken auto parts recovered from hit-and-run accident scenes.

Lawida determined that the mirror was from the passenger side of a 2006 Chevy Impala. Police then searched the state Department of Motor Vehicles’ computer database and came up with more than 500 cars that fit that description in Erie County.

The accident investigators then set to work visiting the addresses of where the cars were registered, each time inspecting the vehicles for damage and a replacement side view mirror.

“We went door to door throughout the county inspecting cars for damage,” Forero said Thursday. “It was a process of elimination.”

Amherst Senior Accident Investigator Bob McMahon caught a break when he and LaFalce were heading over to an address on the 100 block of Princeton Avenue in the town and near the Buffalo border. McMahon ran a license plate check on the vehicle and a report came back that it had been reported stolen the same night as the accident.

Ford had told city police at the Central District Station downtown that his fiancée’s car had been stolen.

When McMahon and LaFalce arrived at the Princeton Avenue address, they spoke with Brown, who informed them that Ford usually drove the car.

The investigation was now hitting high gear. Police learned that on the night of the crash, Ford was scheduled to attend psychology classes at D’Youville College on the city’s West Side. The torched car was located at an insurance impound yard and it was determined that not only was the passenger side rear-view mirror missing, but that there was damage to the right front fender.

With evidence pointing to Ford, LaFalce and Diaz went to his home on Princeton and brought him to Buffalo Police Headquarters for questioning, according to police.

As the interview progressed, Ford, who also claimed to have a Buffalo residence, confessed that he was the driver and began sobbing uncontrollably, police said.

The investigation is not over. Charges of insurance fraud for filing a false claim of a stolen car and arson also are being considered.

In addition to Buffalo and Amherst accident investigators, Niagara Falls Detective Bill Smith and Erie County District Attorney investigators supervised by Assistant District Attorney Kelley Omel are continuing the probe.

Also, Jed Dietrich, the attorney representing Devaughn, pointed out that under state law, Ford’s fiancée could face penalties because she owns the vehicle.

“Devaughn’s family wants to personally express their gratitude to all of the police agencies that diligently investigated and brought this matter to this stage,” Dietrich said.

Devaughn’s mother, Rasheena Sturgis, said her son had gone to the Tim Hortons coffee shop in the lobby of ECMC to apply for a job and was on his way home when the accident occurred.

“He’s very independent and wanted his own money and he wanted to help me because I’m a single parent,” Sturgis said.

Now her son faces a long road in rebuilding his independence. Sturgis also said she is grateful to the medical staff who treated her son at Women & Childrens Hospital.

How long her son’s physical rehabilitation will take, Sturgis said, is unknown. “He’s still working on learning how to walk,” she said.

Ford is scheduled to appear in Buffalo City Court on Thursday.


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