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.
But what seems like witnesses ignoring an emergency situation on the video can be explained by something psychologists call bystander syndrome.
"In a nutshell (bystander syndrome) is when people witness an emergency, when they witness an accident or a crime, the more people that witness, the less likely any one of them is going to do something to help," Dr. Marisa Randazzo, former U.S. Secret Service Chief Psychologist told CBS' The Early Show.
"It's counter intuitive, but what we know is that there are three steps that any bystander, any witness goes through when they see something happening and they've got to go through these three steps before they do anything," Randazzo said.
"They have to notice it's an emergency," Randazzo said. "What happens is when something like this happens people start to look around at others and see what their reaction is, and if the other people aren't immediately reacting with alarm, pulling out their cell phones, calling the police, maybe calling for help, yelling, it's easy for us to misinterpret and say, no one else looks so alarmed so maybe it is not what I think it is.
"They have to feel like they have the skills and the competence to do something. If there was a nurse or an EMT, they would have gone in because they're trained to do that. Everyone else assumes 'I don't have the training to do that,'" Randazzo said.
City Council President Calixto Torres said viewers of the 1½-minute videotape might mistakenly believe that no one helped.
"I think this moved too quickly," he said. "I think it moved too quick and we were putting information out that was incomplete. What I think was missing is the fact that this happened in a very short period of time."
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 forklift 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 no one gets any closer than a couple of yards and no one attempts to stop or divert traffic 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 Hartford 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."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell said the video is "beyond chilling."
"There seems little question that the driver of the car that struck Angel Arce Torres on May 30 knew what happened," she said in a written statement. "Almost as chilling is the reaction of some passers-by who did little in the moments after the crash to assist Mr. Torres."
The victim's son, Angel Arce, begged the public for help in finding the driver.
"I want justice for my father," he said. "He's a good man. He's in pain. The family is in pain."
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."