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A sign of hope

It has been almost eight years since a hit-and-run driver killed their son. His parents still wait for a phone call.

Published October 8, 2005

[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
Sheree and Wayne Kettlety walk past the large yellow sign they hope will lead someone to identify the hit-and-run driver who killed their son Danial along Ridge Road in Pasco County in 1997. The sign has stood for most of the nearly eight years since Danial’s death.

The Kettletys place silk flowers at the roadside memorial at the site where Danial died. “The kids started this, they made it for him,” Sheree says. “One of his friends even hung his sneakers here after winning a race, but someone stole them.”

Sheree and Wayne Kettlety hold the quilt she made for Danial as they stand in front of his high school graduation picture and the flowered centerpiece from his funeral at their home in New Port Richey.

NEW PORT RICHEY - They don't hear from the Florida Highway Patrol anymore.

The leads, once so steady that Wayne Kettlety had enough information to fill a small book, have slowed.

All anyone can say is that on a stretch of Ridge Road more than seven years ago, someone left Kettlety's firstborn to die.

Every day, for most of those years, a bright yellow sign has reminded commuters:


Kettlety and his wife, Sheree, thought they would have answers by now. Hit-and-run cases are usually solved within seven years, investigators told them. The eighth is a month away.

"We're overdue," Wayne Kettlety says.

So why do they maintain a sign they know is as inconspicuous as the trees that surround it? Why do they believe in what seems to be the improbable: finding Danial's killer?

Sheree Kettlety answers the question with a question.

"Do you have any children?"

* * *

On the day he died, Danial Kettlety was walking to his job at Winn-Dixie just before dawn. A triathlete, he walked or ran everywhere. He didn't even have a driver's license.

"6:30 (a.m.)," Sheree Kettlety says. "That's when I got the phone call."

Danial was 19. He'd graduated from River Ridge High School and just started classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. He dreamed of becoming an architect, maybe even returning to San Jose, Calif., where the Kettletys lived before moving to Florida.

Sheree Kettlety still drives by the site where Danial lay dying under a full moon.

"I always tell him I love him and I miss him. I talk out loud."

Wayne Kettlety does, too. Sometimes, he has no choice.

"We live here," he says. The couple's Hunter's Ridge home is just minutes away from the scene.

The Kettletys have so many questions for Danial's killer. That's why they find it difficult to move on with life.

"It's kind of like you want to know, "Is this person remorseful,' " Wayne Kettlety says.

His wife rattles off a list of her own questions: "Why did they hit him? Why didn't they stop? Why didn't they help him?"

Sheree Kettlety knows the answers may not be what she wants to hear.

"Maybe the person, maybe they're not remorseful," she says. "Maybe they'll cuss me out and say your son shouldn't have been walking. Who knows? I would like to hopefully one day sit down and talk to this person.

"I know this person has to get up every day and look at themselves in the mirror and know what they've done."

* * *

There have been times, at least once every year, when hope fails them momentarily and they think that it is time to dismantle the sign with the bold red and black lettering.

"You think, "Okay, it's never going to be solved,' " Sheree Kettlety says. "I'll go through periods and it's like, "I'm going to take the sign down.' "

They have never gotten the chance.

Every time they were close to taking the sign down, "we get a call," Wayne Kettlety says.

It's usually their private detective, Mike Holden. When there's a new tip, he phones the Kettletys. Holden took the case about a month after Danial died. He continues to search for clues at no cost to the Kettletys.

"I just feel bad for them," he says. "They don't have answers and they love their son."

Holden still thinks he can provide some answers for the family.

"Time's a bad thing and time works in your behalf," he says. "Relationships go sour. People pass away. And people that know about it, they're not reluctant to tell the story anymore. Someone will come forward. Somebody, somewhere will have a conscience."

* * *

In December, Sheree Kettlety finished a quilt. Danial's quilt. She started working on it more than seven years ago. She completed the top, then Danial passed. She fell into a deep depression.

"I remember when we were leaving the hospital and they had pronounced Dan dead," she says. "I remember asking, "What do I do now?' "

The woman who taught her son how to cook macaroni and cheese - from scratch - no longer cooked. The woman who believed in maintaining a tidy home no longer cleaned. And there were no more handmade blankets and afghans.

The quilt reminded her of him. Danial picked out the fabric. Black, purple, teal and white fabric. Danial had an eye for that kind of thing. She used to go to Dade City to shop for material. Danial would tag along.

She doesn't know why she finished it. She says she was in the mood.

"He loved black and white," Sheree Kettlety says, unfurling the folded quilt in the air. "It's a guy thing. That's just what he liked."

* * *

Around the same time that Sheree Kettlety finished the quilt, the family got a new lead. Neither the FHP nor the Kettletys will say what it was, just that it did not pan out. It was the last one they received.

And while the large yellow sign may not have yielded new clues for the Kettletys, it has for other hit-and-run victims.

"A lot of leads through the years," Kettlety says, "they solved other cases."

The fact that people are still calling all these years later gives the Kettletys some assurance that one day, the person on the other end of the telephone will help them solve their own case.

"My heart's broken," Sheree Kettlety says. "And there's some other mom that's out there. Her child was killed by a hit-and-run. If it can help solve their case, I always feel that someday, my turn will come."

- Rodney Thrash can be reached at 727 893-8352 or

[Last modified October 7, 2005, 08:42:05]

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