911 DISPATCHER: 911,police emergency. NARRATOR: A hit and run driverleft the scene of the crime, but he took something with him. Something very important. And he left behind apiece of forensic evidence that microscopicallytold a story more graphic than any eyewitnesscould ever have told. [theme music] On a cold Februarynight in 1995, Todd Christensen, aKalamazoo, Michigan policeman, was on duty in his patrol car. Things had beenquiet, and Christensen thought it wasgoing to remain so. CHRISTENSEN: I was actuallyeating dinner in my car, relaxing with a peanut butterand jelly sandwich, when a frantic citizen came upand pulled up next to me. NARRATOR: He toldChristensen that a man was badly hurt a coupleof blocks away. [sirens] When Christensen got there, theman was alive, but just barely. CHRISTENSEN: He was whatI call circling the drain. His breathing was not good. He was doing all hecould to just suck in air at that time–major head trauma. NARRATOR: The victim,33-year-old Kirk Hudson, was rushed to thelocal hospital. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: WhenI went into the room and I saw him layingthere, and his injuries, he just didn’t hardlylook like the same person. So it was real hard. And my mom was, ofcourse, real upset. That was her only son. So it was very upsetting. NARRATOR: Hudson neverregained consciousness. He was pronounceddead before police could find outwhat had happened. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: Whenmy brother passed away, it affected our whole family. My mom suffered twonervous breakdowns. It affected all of us. NARRATOR: Kirk’s deathwas the final act in a series of tragedies. He was an unemployed Navyveteran whose 28-year-old wife died of cancer justa few years earlier. At the time of his death, hehad been caring for his mother. She was sick and elderly. At the accidentscene, police found a damaged bicyclenear Kirk’s body. CHRISTENSEN: What we saw isdefinitely evidence of a crime. The vehicle parts, the mangledup bicycle, the person lying in a pool of blood, wouldlead any reasonable officer to believe that this guygot hit by a vehicle, and then that vehicle then left. NARRATOR: Kirk’sfamily told police he often rode hisbicycle at night. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: Ithink maybe that was how maybe he didrelieve his stress. It didn’t faze him,really, what time it was. He was a night person, sothat was his thing, you know? He’d ride his bike at nightor wherever he wanted to do.
He’d ride his bike at nightor wherever he wanted to do. NARRATOR: Near Kirk’sbicycle, police found a trail of plastic andglass fragments, a small convex mirror, some paintchips, and an antenna. CHRISTENSEN: The first thingthat ran through my mind was the driver of thisvehicle was obviously drunk. Someone left the bar, ranthis guy over, either knew it or didn’t know it–regardless– and left, because they weredrunk and didn’t want to get caughtby the police. NARRATOR: This trailof vehicle parts led north along thestreet, indicating the direction of the driver. From Kirk’s headinjuries, police determined that he was ridingthe bike with the traffic on the right side of the roadwhen he was hit from behind. This meant that the hitand run vehicle would have had right front end damage. There was no evidence thedriver used his brakes before or after he struck Kirk. And Kirk’s family couldn’tunderstand why someone would leave him todie in the street. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: Thiswas just an accident. He didn’t mean to do it, orshe didn’t mean to do it. We just wanted themto say to us that they were sorry for what they did. And that they didn’tmean to do it. So that’s all we wanted. NARRATOR: There to Kirk Hudson’shit and run death. But the force of impactleft little doubt that the driver who hithim knew what happened. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: Howcould they just hit him and then justleave him there? To me, that was just– Icouldn’t even believe it. I was like, why couldn’tthey have just stopped? NARRATOR: The only cluesto the driver’s identity were some pieces of truck orcar parts left at the scene. FALL: We knew that theevidence on top of the ice was fresh, becauseif it wasn’t fresh, it would have frozen in the ice. So all the piece of light lens,the antenna, reflector lens, any parts of thebicycle, the fresh paint all setting on top,we knew was fresh. NARRATOR: Crimescene technicians identified the location of eachpiece with a numbered marker and then drew a detaileddiagram of the scene. Every piece– there were 28 inall– was then photographed. But it was doubtful whetherthese tiny clues would be enough toidentify the vehicle. LUEDECKING: After I collectedthings from the scene, I thought that we’d donethe best job we could. But I gave it abouta 30% chance of ever finding the vehiclethat was involved. I didn’t think that westood a real good chance. NARRATOR: Among thepieces of the vehicle were also paint chips. One of the chips was alittle bigger than a quarter and contained awealth of information.
and contained awealth of information. There were two distinctcolors on the chip with a line runningthrough them. LUEDECKING: It was atricolored piece of paint chip. It was a maroon color, ablack pinstripe, and mauve. That was very unique. That’s a two-tonedvehicle with a pinstripe. NARRATOR: A backgroundcheck revealed there were veryfew vehicles sold with that color combination,which raised the possibility that it was a custom paint job. -That helped narrowthe scope of what we were looking for even more. NARRATOR: Next, investigatorsturned to the shards of orange plasticrecovered from the scene. Under the microscope, they founda combination of small cubes and rectangles designed toreflect and shine light. This meant it was mostlikely from a turn signal or parking light. Investigators thentook each charge and attempted to piecetogether what they had. -You literally may haveone piece that’s broke here and another piece that fits intoit, or you get jagged pieces, and they all cometogether microscopically. And that’s what you look for. NARRATOR: On oneshard, investigators found a pentagonwith a star inside. It looked like aChrysler Dodge logo. On this shard, there appearedto be a serial number. HOLMES: The one part hadsome markings on it– some numbers on it– and I wasin hopes that it would be part numbers that we couldidentify what type of vehicle this lens had came from. NARRATOR: So investigatorsgathered all the pieces from the crime scene andwent to a local Chrysler Dodge dealership. And there, partsmanager David Johnson found himself doingsomething well outside his job description. JOHNSON: I’d read about itin the paper about the person getting hit indowntown Kalamazoo, and they thoughtit might be a van of some kind that had done it. And when the officer came in andquestioned us, it’s like, wow. I wonder if it was a Dodge. NARRATOR: Johnsonconfirmed these pieces were from the plastic casingof a turn signal. He then took the serial numberand went through old parts manuals and discoveredanother piece of the puzzle. JOHNSON: There was no doubt inmy mind what this came off of. It had to be off of a Dodge van. Once we saw the paint chipand the antenna on it, I knew it had to bea conversion van, because those werenot standard items. NARRATOR: A conversionvan is customized to the owner’s specifications. Johnson said the partsfrom the turn signal indicated thevehicle was a Dodge Ram, a van madebetween 1986 and 1993.
brain teasers for adults Ram, a van madebetween 1986 and 1993.
Ram, a van madebetween 1986 and 1993. But a closer look at the smallmirror found at the scene narrowed this down even further. This was a customized part, andwas only available from 1986 to 1987. Police now knew the make andmodel of the vehicle that killed Kirk Hudsonwithin a two year range. LUEDECKING: We werein a real big hurry to try to find the vehicle. Time is prettycritical, you know? You don’t want thatvehicle sitting out there for a long period of time. NARRATOR: Incredibly, inKalamazoo alone, there were hundreds of vehiclesfitting that description. Nationwide, tens of thousands. And the driver and hisvan could be anywhere. After examining pieces ofthe vehicle that killed Kirk Hudson, police knew they werelooking for a 1986 or ’87 mauve and maroon DodgeRam, a conversion van with a black pinstripe. Police had a listof the hundreds of people whose vansfit the description. -It’s like looking fora needle in a haystack. It’s not an easy thing to do. NARRATOR: Kirk Hudson’sfamily was informed, but warned not toget their hopes up. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: Mybrother did have a family, and they did care, you know? He was a person, andit was important for us to follow through onthis and make sure that justice was served. NARRATOR: A description of thevan was released to the media. Some calls came in, butthey were all dead ends. Then, about a month afterKirk Hudson’s death, a customer in a local barstarted to ask some questions. WOMAN: I was atmy my normal seat, and the bartender saidsomething about an accident where a guy on abicycle had been killed. And I said, oh really? When? NARRATOR: The woman, who askedthat she remain anonymous, wanted to know moreabout the accident. When she heard the accidenttook place just a few blocks from the bar and read thedescription of the hit and run vehicle, she suspected she knewthe identity of the driver. WOMAN: Because hehad the only Dodge van in thatneighborhood that color. I don’t even remember whatyear his Dodge van was, how old it was, or newit was, or whatever. I just know that thatvan, it had to be his van. NARRATOR: She called policeto voice her suspicion that the driver of thevan was Jim Northey, and she said shewas with Northey on the night of the accident. The two had beendrinking together. WOMAN: Well, I couldn’teven possibly come close to saying how many he had. I wasn’t keeping track. NARRATOR: She said Northeyleft the bar alone in his van
NARRATOR: She said Northeyleft the bar alone in his van shortly before theaccident occurred. Northey was 46years old, and had seven previous convictionsfor drunk driving. Vehicle records confirmedhe owned a 1987 Dodge Ram conversion van the same coloras the one in the accident. But when police discoveredwhere Northey worked, they started to doubt whetherthey’d ever solve the case. HOLMES: He worked at thislocal recycling place where they shred vehicles. We were afraid that thevehicle got shredded and it’s in a thousandpieces out there in the junkyard someplace. NARRATOR: Police rushedto Northey’s home and found the windowsof his garage taped closed with towelsand plastic bags. FALL: Nobody couldsee inside, which is unusual for agarage, which just got up my interest even more. NARRATOR: Whenquestioned, Jim Northey denied he was involved ina hit and run accident, but he acknowledged thathis wife had driven the van and gotten into a minor trafficaccident a few weeks earlier. FALL: I could seethat the van had been involved in an accident. The front light right lightassembly had been replaced. It was just hangingthere from the wire. NARRATOR: Butpolice weren’t sure how they could tell whether thedamage was caused by the hit and run accident orthe other traffic accident Northey referred to. Then, almost by chance, policediscovered an important clue. -When I got to aworkbench, it was covered with several things. Tools, work stuff,that type of thing. And I proceeded totake everything off from this work benchjust piece by piece. And as I got the bottom, Ifound one piece of orange lens– light lens– just like the oneswe’d found out at the scene. NARRATOR: But itwasn’t enough just to find a similarpiece of plastic. The most importantthing was did it match? Although Jim Northeydenied hitting Kirk Hudson with his van, policeconfiscated the vehicle and ran it througha series of tests. LUEDECKING: Thefirst thing we did is we processed thevan with luminol. We look for trace blood. We next processed the van tosee if there was any hairs or fibers that camefrom the victim. NARRATOR: But more than a monthhad passed since Kirk Hudson’s death, and there wasno biological link between Northey’s vanand the crime scene. So police turned to moredurable evidence– the plastic and paint from thesuspect vehicle. A comparison analysis wasdone on a paint sample from Northey’s van and paintchips from the crime scene. The colors and chemicalcomposition of both samples were identical. -The state police crime lab didmatch up paint from the vehicle and paint from the scene. NARRATOR: Next, investigatorsturned to the tiny chip of plastic they’d foundon Northey’s workbench. As if they were puttingtogether a jigsaw puzzle, they tried to fit this chipinto the turn signal partially reassembled fromthe crime scene. Incredibly, the piece fit. HOLMES: When anamber lens breaks, the pieces don’t evenbreak the same way again. So basically, we had afingerprint found at the scene. There was no doubt. NARRATOR: This tinyshard of plastic told an important story. It was proof that Jim Northeyhad removed the broken turn signal lens, placed ittemporarily on his workbench, and when he went to throwthe broken item away, inadvertently left behindthis one tiny piece that matched the brokenpieces at the crime scene. Investigators now turnedto Kirk Hudson’s bike. They placed it next to thesuspect van in an attempt to gauge the point of contact. FENTON: There was a dent in thebicycle that would have been similar from wherethe van hit it. The same height, the samelocation, passenger side. Just all kinds ofjigsaw puzzle pieces fitting together like a glove. LUEDECKING: I saw the damageto the bicycle matching up to the van, the parkinglight lens at the same height as the seat, the color schemeof the van as to what we picked up outthere, the antenna. I got that warm fuzzy feelingthat we’d done our job. We’d got the vehicle involved. NARRATOR: Based onthe forensic evidence, Jim Northey wascharged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: It was goodto have the person’s name. That was important. Not that we knew him,but just who it was. That maybe we couldget some closure. NARRATOR: Northeywas offered a chance to plead to a lessercharge in exchange for a reduced sentence,but he refused. The defense team was convincedthe tiny bits of plastic and paint assembled byforensic technicians weren’t enough toconvince a jury. But they faced a major hurdle. Since no one had seenNorthey driving, all they had was the physical evidence toput his van at the crime scene. -There were no eyewitnesses. And when there areno eyewitnesses, that remains a difficultpart to sort out in your mind until you hear all the evidence. -The pieces ofamber parking light lens that you tookfrom the scene– NARRATOR: During the trial,prosecutors spent hours telling the jury howeach and every piece of plastic andpaint fit together. When completed,it told the story of how Kirk Hudson hadbeen hit and left to die. FENTON: Scientific evidenceis always compelling. Juries love scientific evidence. They watch CSI. They watch your show. This is the rare type ofcase where we actually have a lot ofscientific evidence. JANICE: It had to bemore than coincidence that a piece of plastic or apaint chip or a piece of glass doesn’t just happen to be there. And when they showed them,blew them up, magnified them, it was easy to see howthey exactly matched, and that was veryconvincing as a juror. -All of theselittle markers here that I referred to arepieces of evidence. NARRATOR: After a threeday trial, and only four hours of deliberation, thejury found Jim Northey guilty. FENTON: They jury puthim behind that wheel beyond a reasonable doubt. That pretty much isthe end of the story. NARRATOR: He was sentencedto four years in prison. Kirk Hudson’s familystill grieves, but they’re gratefulthe killer unknowingly left behind the informationthat led to his capture. KIMBERLY LAVERTY: And I knowthat all those little pieces came to be one piece thatreally helped solve the case. Maybe if this hadhappened 20 years ago, it might not have gotten solved. But it took allthose little pieces to come togetherto get it solved, so we’re very grateful for that. LUEDECKING: Evidence is greatfor any criminal proceeding. You know, I can sit hereand say you ran a stop sign, and you say, no I didn’t. But if I say I gotyour fingerprint or I got your parkinglight, you can argue it. It’s evidence. -Another moral of thisstory is dogged police work and investigation,patience, determination, can bring people tojustice that otherwise might have avoided it. [theme music]