-Just after dark on a warm summer evening, five children were walking home along this road Suddenly, out of nowhere, a pickup truck headed towards them [honking] [screaming] -Three of the children were hit One was killed The driver sped away Investigators called on state-of-the-art science to reconstruct the crime in hopes of learning how the accident happened and the identity of the driver -Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is one of America’s most popular resort towns The beach and sunny weather bring in almost 7 million tourists each year And the city is also home to 1 and 1/2 million full-time residents The Walker family settled into this working class neighborhood, one they believed was safe from crime and violence The Walkers youngest child, six-year-old Nicole, loved the neighborhood because of the large number of children who all played together -She didn’t like to smile She used to tell people, I don’t know how to smile You’d tickle her and say, see, you can smile It’d always be a cockeyed smile Her glasses would always be cockeyed So I used to call her my kooky cockeyed little one -Just after dark on June 23, 1992, Nicole Walker was walking home with four other neighborhood children It was just after a rainstorm, and they were walking along the side of this road where there are no sidewalks When they got to the front of this apartment building, there was a large puddle of water left from the rainstorm Michelle and Gina Vitello were walking with Nicole that night They were 10 years old at the time -I’m walking in the street, and there’s a big puddle, so we wanted to go through it so that we don’t have to be in the street And Nicole didn’t want to walk through it because she didn’t want to get sick because she had no shoes on So Michelle picked her up, and we started walking through the puddle -As we were walking in this puddle, I had Nicole in my hands Everybody was telling me to watch out And that was about all I remember -And I see this car, this big– a bunch of lights just coming straight at us And I just yell, watch out! -By the time they saw the vehicle, it was too late Nicole Walker and Michelle Vitello were both hit -I went over to check on Nicole, and I seen blood coming out of her mouth and her ears, and I– I knew she wasn’t going to make it -One of the kids ran to Nicole’s home SUZANNE WALKER: There was the knock at the door, and it was Joel There was no color in his face, and his eyes were so bugged out of his head He was just– you could see the terror, the fright, just saying, the girls were all hit The girls were all hit -The children were rushed to the hospital Michelle suffered a broken leg, two broken wrists, and a lacerated liver Nine-year-old Brooke Mansey suffered a fractured shoulder and facial injuries that required a dozen stitches Six-year-old Nicole died shortly after arriving at the hospital -Some internal surgeons came in, and the conclusion was, no, she– that she doesn’t have a chance And I begged and pleaded even for 1% chance, and they told me, no There’s no chance -Nicole died of severe trauma to the head and massive internal injuries A witness said it was a man driving a green pickup truck with a white camper top which sped away quickly, ran this red light, and disappeared MICHELLE VITELLO: I VITELLO: was just wondering why– how can somebody, like, just hit people and just keep going without even caring, like, what was going to happen to them and just left us– just left us to die and– it’s just a– just– scary feeling I didn’t know if they were ever going to find them or what

-Investigators were hoping that science could identify the pickup truck and the driver -How could you hit five little kids and keep on going? -Suzanne Walker was grief-stricken and angry over the death of her daughter Nicole -How could you do that? How could anybody hit kids and keep on going? Just to know you laid them flat out in the middle of a road and by– you had to know -Detective Bruce Babcock, a member of an elite team of accident reconstructionists, was called to the scene Just before the accident, witnesses said a green truck swerved off the road, knocking over some trash cans, then stopped in a nearby cul de sac A few minutes later, the truck started up again, heading back out of the neighborhood on the same road on Southwest 33rd Avenue As it approached the apartment building, it veered off the road into the puddle, hitting three of the five children, killing six-year-old Nicole Walker Witnesses said the truck picked up speed after fleeing the accident Bruce Babcock took detailed measurements of the accident scene and photographs DET BRUCE BABCOCK: When we got to the scene, the grill piece has been found, uh, in the puddle by a citizen, who later gave it to one of the initially responding deputies Uh, there was also a piece of clothing that, uh, from Nicole that we found in the puddle itself -The grill was unique It had come from special edition 1980 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck Babcock also found pieces of plastic from the front turn signal lens of the truck Forensic chemist Bruce Ayala hoped that Nicole’s clothing would contain vital evidence BRUCE AYALA: The first area of interest in my analysis was to examine the victim’s clothing, because many times in hit and run accidents where pedestrians are involved, there is paint transferred from the front end of the vehicle to the victim’s clothing -Ayala did find paint on Nicole’s clothing Under a microscope, he discovered that the chips actually contained six different layers of paint, but the outer layer of paint was blue and not green, as the witnesses had indicated The grill left at the scene matched the pattern injury on the back of six-year-old Nicole Walker, and the head injury on the back of her head indicated that Nicole’s head most likely hit the hood portion of the truck Investigators now changed the description of the truck and notified the public to be on the lookout for a blue 1980 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck with possible front end damage KENNETH PADOWITZ: And in essence, there was a man hunt in an attempt to look for this vehicle, because the investigators knew that if they found this vehicle, there was a great likelihood that they would be able to determine who was the driver of this truck and responsible for Nicole’s death -News reports of the hit and run accident outraged the community Detectives searched all over Florida for the blue Silverado pickup truck Three weeks went by, then an anonymous caller told police that a blue Silverado pickup truck was in a driveway about 20 miles from the accident scene KENNETH PADOWITZ: This deputy arrived at the home, got out of his vehicle, and noticed as he was walking towards the front door that there was a truck– a blue Silverado pickup truck– that was surrounded by other vehicles -A washing machine had been placed in front of the truck, obscuring its front end The truck did not have the white camper top witnesses described The front grill was intact, although it was not the original one, and the front turn signal lens was broken In addition, the tires did not match tire impressions from the accident scene The truck was registered to a Kathryn Pierce, whose husband, 52-year-old Ken Pierce, had a prior history of driving while under the influence of alcohol One of the victims thought the driver was a man, but couldn’t identify Ken Pierce as the driver of the vehicle

-The truck was just speeding at us All I can remember is a bright light Just bright lights coming straight at us It was– I was so confused about the whole– just the whole thing Just not even remember getting hit or nothing It’s just weird Weird thing -Investigators faced two difficult tasks, first, trying to prove that this was the truck involved in the accident, and second, to figure out who was driving the truck KENNETH PADOWITZ: The problem for us was developing the evidence that was going to be needed to show who, in fact, was the driver of this truck, who veered off that roadway and hit Nicole Rae Walker that night and veered back on and didn’t stop That was going to be the challenge -It was now three weeks after the hit and run death of Nicole Rae Walker, and police had the truck they believed was involved in the accident But there were problems with making a definitive match If this was the truck in the accident, it had been altered some time after the accident with different tires, repairs to the front grill, and the truck did not have the white camper top witnesses clearly recalled seeing There were no fingerprints inside the compartment of the truck, which was extremely unusual It appeared that the inside compartment had been wiped clean District Attorney Ken Padowitz kept a picture of Nicole Walker on his desk, a sign of his determination to find out what exactly happened on the night of the accident So he turned to a new state-of-the-art scientific tool, forensic examination, which can create a virtual rendering of an accident -The best way to understand the concept of forensic animation or reconstruction would be to understand that what we’re trying to do is visualize the opinions of other experts -All of the information gathered at the crash site by accident reconstructionist Bruce Babcock was taken into account, the horizontal and vertical measurements of 2,000 feet of roadway, the eyewitness accounts, the weather conditions, and the injuries sustained by the victims The mechanical specifications of the 1980 Chevrolet Silverado were also programmed into the computer They also calculated the approximate tire pressure and the height and weight of their suspect, Ken Pierce, who was 5 foot 11 inches tall and 210 pounds All would affect the height of the truck as it traveled down the street before striking the children The speed was uncertain, so they estimated the truck was traveling 30 miles per hour, the posted speed limit on that road Michelle Vitello was carrying six-year-old Nicole Walker on her right hip at the time of impact When the animators programmed this information, they made a startling discovery The front grill of Kenneth Pierce’s truck would have struck Nicole Walker in the back at the exact same place and at the same 22 degree angle reported by the forensic pathologist at Nicole’s autopsy JACK SUCHOCKI: We then took an angle of Nicole’s spine to the vertical, the height of Nicole from the roadway or the ground And suddenly, it was at that point we discovered that we could match these bruising marks and contusions to actual elements on the front of the truck, a real revelation to us, and certainly something that could become very crucial in the case -When the animation was complete, it consisted of three different views, an overhead perspective, providing a bird’s eye view of what happened; another from inside the vehicle, which would have been the view of the alleged driver, Kenneth Pierce From this vantage point, you can see that Nicole’s head would have hit the front hood of the truck, causing her fatal head injury The third view, a so-called chase view, was from behind the truck For further proof, investigators turned to the paint chip found on Nicole’s shirt at the time of the accident The paint chip was blue, but there were five other layers of paint underneath Forensic chemist Bruce Ayala ground the paint sample in a pestle, then analyzed it using infrared spectroscopy, which uses infrared light to identify the chemical makeup The results were charted onto a computer graph BRUCE AYALA: They were six different layers of paint

There was blue metallic present, blue non-metallic, gray body filler Then there was a blue metallic factory paint, a white factory primer, and a black factory primer Uh, subsequently, when we examined the suspect’s vehicle, we found that all six of those layers were present on his vehicle -And, finally, the plastic particles found at the crime scene were the same in color and materials as the broken turn signal on Pierce’s truck Although there were no fingerprints found in the compartment of the truck, Kenneth Pierce’s is partial thumb print was found on a can on the floor of the vehicle 52-year-old Kenneth Pierce was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Nicole Walker [honking] [screaming] -The forensic animation showed clearly that the driver would have known he had hit the children at the time of the accident Before the trial, Ken Pierce’s neighbor Terry Jones came forward and told police that Pierce admitted driving the truck on the night of the accident DET BRUCE BABCOCK: Mr. Jones told us that Ken Pierce had contacted him and requested that, uh, he come over and help fix the damage to the front of the vehicle Uh, he also, uh, uh, received a camper top that had been taken off the vehicle Uh, the camper top was worth about $500, and Mr. pierce gave it to him for the work that he did on the car -Kenneth Pierce had a number of prior arrests and convictions KENNETH PADOWITZ: It should be somewhat significant to– to find out that, in addition to 20 arrests and convictions for felonies and misdemeanors in Mr. Pierce’s life, he had two prior hit and run convictions -At the trial, prosecutors wanted to introduce the forensic animation to show the jury their version of what happened on the night of the accident Defense lawyers claimed that the animation was nothing more than speculation and would prejudice the jury Prosecutors said the animation was a factual account of the accident The judge ruled that the forensic animation was admissible It showed that the blue Silverado truck traveling north on 33rd Avenue drove off the road and struck some trash cans After the vehicle stopped briefly in the cul de sac, it then turned around and headed south on 33rd Avenue As it approached the intersection of Griffin Avenue in front of the apartment building, the drug veered off the road into the puddle and hit the children [honking] [screaming] The front grill of the truck struck six-year-old Nicole Walker in the back at a 22 degree angle, leaving this deep bruise at the moment of impact The truck made a right turn onto Griffin Avenue and sped off The computer animation constructed exactly to scale shows that it was a truck the same height as the Chevrolet Silverado that was involved in the accident DET BRUCE BABCOCK: There was, uh, no reason for him not to have known that it was, in fact, children that he struck In fact, witnesses said that he accelerated from the scene as he fled -Every single one of those jurors had their eyes glued to that television screen And I can say, as I studied them and watched them view that computer animation, that I had every single moment of their attention captured for that brief period of time -At the moment of impact, paint chips were also deposited on Nicole’s clothing, paint chips which were later matched to Mr. Pierce’s truck -And about front end damage to a 1980 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck He hired Terry Jones He hired Terry Jones to fix the front of that truck -In addition to the scientific evidence, jurors heard testimony that Ken Pierce made efforts to conceal damage to the truck after the accident and confided to one person that he was driving the truck Just weeks after what would have been Nicole Walker’s seventh birthday, jurors delivered a verdict JUROR: The defendant is guilty of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident with death as charged in the information So say we all– -Because of Mr. Pierce’s prior convictions,

he was sentenced to 40 years in prison SUZANNE WALKER: I’m very glad about that This man had seven priors in the state of Florida He never once ever admitted to what he did He’s got so many priors back to 1952 And I’m sorry I don’t want this man in our society -This case was the first time forensic animation had been admitted into evidence in a Florida court and only the third time in the United States -Trial lawyers, whether they be criminal, prosecutors, or defense attorneys, or civil lawyers, now have an opportunity to use dynamic new form of evidence to educate jurors about issues that are before them in courts all over this country -But for the victims, Kenneth Pierce’s behavior that night still raises questions for which there are few answers SUZANNE WALKER: Why didn’t you stop? Why didn’t you stop? Why did you just hit kids, plow into them, leave them there to die in a puddle, and just keep on going? Just, you know, that’s the biggest thing Why? Why not just stop? -Well, this case involved the death of a little girl And I became determined to ensure that justice was done for her And Nicole Rae Walker’s family blew up, uh, a photograph of their daughter and had a tear painted on her cheek And they presented Detective Babcock and myself with a copy of this picture, and I have that picture in my office, and it sits there And I view it every day because that photograph reminds me that justice can still be had in the criminal justice system And the day that I don’t feel that way anymore is the day that I’m going to take down her picture

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