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Troopers left to hope for break in hit-run

Though investigators closed the case May 14, a trooper said the agency would pursue any new leads in the case.

By NORA KOCH
Published May 26, 2004

PALM HARBOR - Someone knows what happened the night Tony Iuele died on Tampa Road.

But not authorities.

With virtually no evidence from the scene and sketchy witness reports, the Florida Highway Patrol says it has exhausted all leads from the 21/2-month-old hit-and-run.

"All we can hope is that someone's conscience needs to be cleared," said highway patrol spokesman Trooper Larry Coggins Jr.

Iuele, 50, died March 13 during the walk he took every night before bed. He was killed as he stepped off the median into the westbound lane of the six-lane road, where he was struck by four vehicles, according to the Highway Patrol.

Just one of the drivers stopped and called for help.

"He walked out in front of a car," Coggins said. "After that happened, what the people did was wrong."

Investigators technically closed the case May 14. But Coggins emphasized that the department hasn't given up the search to find the driver who ran over Iuele and would follow up any leads that materialize.

Troopers responded to the accident scene, on Tampa Road between Lake St. George Drive and McMullen-Booth Road, at 11:22 that night. Witnesses gave a sketchy description of a vehicle with square tail lights, said to be the first vehicle to strike Iuele.

There were no skid marks. Iuele's clothes were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab, which turned up nothing. Troopers pleaded with the public for help. That appeal produced four reports of vehicles with front-end damage. Troopers determined that none were involved in the Iuele case.

Iuele's death was one of three fatalities this year along or near a stretch of Tampa Road known as Deadman's Curve that has focused attention on the road's safety. In response, Pinellas County officials have posted warning signs, made the outside lane of traffic more narrow to slow down drivers and are studying further improvements.

Susan Sanders, Iuele's widow, hopes that finding the driver who killed her husband will help bring her closure.

"It just doesn't seem fair to Tony," she said Monday. "I just can't imagine him being dragged down the road, like his life didn't matter. He was loved, he was important."

Iuele and Sanders had been married 12 years and had started discussing the possibility of having children after moving to Palm Harbor about a year ago. Until a knee injury shortly before his death, Iuele had worked as a cook at a restaurant in Palm Harbor. He was out of work while recovering from surgery, and took a walk several times a day, usually on Tampa Road.

For now, Sanders deals with her grief and hopes to hear that the driver is found. She says she has some good days, some bad.

"I'll just have to learn to live with it," she said. "Even if we do find him, it's not going to bring Tony back."

TO HELP

Anyone with information regarding the March 13 hit-and-run accident that killed Tony Iuele on Tampa Road is asked to contact the Florida Highway Patrol at 1-888-632-6859, ext. 323.

[Last modified May 26, 2004, 01:00:46]


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