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Some hit and run investigations slow to complete

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Updated: 2/24 11:46 pm
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Family and friends of Juan Salazar gathered outside his home Monday night, lighting candles before walking to the location on US 1 where he was killed in a double hit and run early Friday morning.

"I just want justice for my brother," said Maribell Salazar, who hosted the event not only so her brother's loved ones could remember him, but also to send a message to police that she wants justice as soon as possible.

Action News has learned justice could take time. Since 2011, the Florida Highway Patrol says the number of hit and run investigations across the state has increased from 65,682 in 2011 to 78,396 in 2013.

Rep. Lake Ray said he too was a victim recently.

"I think it is an epidemic. It's causing all of our insurance rates to go up, and we need to take more action."

Ray supports stiffer penalties for hit and run drivers when a victim dies, but says more is needed to quickly prosecute offenders.

"We need more resources to be able to find them and people need to be held accountable."

Ten months ago, Marsha Bair was killed in a hit and run on JTB, and four months ago 15-year-old Haley Smith was killed in St. Augustine. Evidence in both cases is still being reviewed, and Action News found staffing issues at FDLE crime labs could be to blame. Some of the 11 people who analyze trace evidence are in training, and currently it takes 217 days on average to process a case, which is 102 days longer than the department goal.

The wait is leaving many families frustrated, which is why Ray is pushing for change.

"I want them to know I understand and we're working. It's going to be a few steps at a time, but as we continue to work we will make a safer roadway for everyone."

Maribell Salazar said she hopes so.

"This pain is not going away until I get people to pay for what they did."
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