Hartford, Conn. — A 78-year-old man is tossed like a rag doll by a hit-and-run driver and lies motionless on a busy city street as car after car goes by. Pedestrians gawk but appear to do nothing. One driver stops briefly but then pulls back into traffic. A man on a scooter slowly circles the victim before zipping away.
The chilling scene - captured on video by a streetlight surveillance camera - has touched off a round of soul-searching in Hartford, with the capital city's biggest newspaper blaring "SO INHUMANE" on the front page and the police chief lamenting: "We no longer have a moral compass."
"We have no regard for each other," said Chief Daryl Roberts, who on Wednesday released the video in hopes of making an arrest in the accident that left Angel Arce Torres in critical condition.
However, Roberts and other city officials backtracked on Thursday. After initially saying he was unsure whether anyone called 911, he and other city officials appeared at a news conference in which they said that four people dialed 911 within a minute of the accident, and that Torres received medical attention shortly after that.
"This moved too quickly," said Calixto Torres, City Council president. "People were putting information out too quickly."
Roberts said his initial angry reaction was based on what he saw in the video. "The video was very graphic and sent a very bad message," the police chief said.
The hit-and-run took place in daylight last Friday at about 5:45 p.m. in a working-class neighborhood close to downtown in this city of 125,000.
In the video, Torres, a retired fork-lift operator, walks in the two-way street just blocks from the state Capitol after buying milk at a grocery. A tan Toyota and a dark Honda that is apparently chasing it veer across the center line, and Torres is struck by the Honda. Both cars then dart down a side street.
Nine cars pass Torres as a few people stare from the sidewalk. Some approach Torres, but most stay put until a police cruiser responding to an unrelated call arrives on the scene after about a minute and a half.
"Like a dog they left him there," said a disgusted Jose Cordero, 37, who was with friends Thursday not far from where Torres was struck. Robert Luna, who works at a store nearby, said: "Nobody did nothing."
One witness, Bryant Hayre, told the Courant he didn't feel comfortable helping Torres, who he said was bleeding and conscious.
The accident - and bystanders' apparent callousness - dominated morning radio talk shows.
"It was one of the most despicable things I've seen by one human being to another," the Rev. Henry Brown, a community activist, said in an interview. "I don't understand the mind-set anymore. It's kind of mind-boggling. We're supposed to help each other. You see somebody fall, you want to offer a helping hand."
The victim's son, Angel Arce, begged the public for help in finding the driver. "My father is fighting for his life," he said.
The hit-and-run is the second violent crime to shock Hartford this week. On Monday, former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone, 71, was beaten and robbed while walking to breakfast. He remains hospitalized and faces brain surgery.
"There was a time they would have helped that man across the street. Now they mug and assault him," police chief said. "Anything goes."