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    Hit-run victim's family seeks answers

    Police and the family of Stephen Gunter want the driver who struck and killed him to come forward.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


    LARGO -- If the tables been turned, Stephen Gunter's family members say, he would have stopped his vehicle.

    But the driver who struck Gunter Friday night did not stop.

    Gunter, 39, died 39 minutes after he was struck by a Jeep while he pedaled his bicycle on Belcher Road just north of Ulmerton Road. The driver slowed, then sped off.

    "Steve wouldn't have done that," his sister, Karen Allen, said Monday through tears. "He would have never hit someone and run."

    "We just want the person to 'fess up and tell us they're sorry, at least," she said. "I mean, it was another person's life. The point is, they left him there to die."

    Police said Monday they have not found the driver but did pinpoint the type of vehicle that struck Gunter. It is a 1999-2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo that is maroon with a gray bottom. The vehicle should have damage to its front, including a missing driver's side mirror cover and a broken left front headlight.

    The piece of the mirror that broke off the Jeep included a part number. Police took it to Suncoast Chrysler-Plymouth Monday and determined the type of vehicle from which it came, said Largo police Officer George Edmiston.

    "If anyone has any information or was the driver in this crash, they should turn themselves in or come forward and put some closure to this case for the family's sake," Edmiston said.

    Gunter's family members say it would help them if the driver came forward and apologized.

    "At least we might know that the person cared about what they did," said Jennifer Bodenbender, Gunter's sister. "Maybe at least give us a little peace of mind."

    Family members say the real tragedy of Gunter's death is that he recently had gotten his life on track. He had a history of alcohol, drugs and jail; but about a year ago he decided to make a change.

    He held down a cooking job. He fell in love with a girlfriend. He embraced responsibility.

    "If this would have happened two years ago, most of us would have thought, "Oh well, it figures," said his brother-in-law, John Allen. "But he recently got his act cleaned up really good to the point that all of were sitting back and thinking he was really serious about this."

    Family members said Gunter was kind and friendly. He made friends quickly and was likable.

    "He's never hurt anyone. He's never been a violent or cross man," John Allen said. "He would give you whatever you needed, literally to his detriment."

    A witness said the driver of the Jeep that hit Gunter ran through a red arrow and caused the crash, though the accident still is under investigation, police said. Six people called 911 while the motorist fled.

    "By taking off, they were looking out for themselves and not my son," Mary Jean Gunter said. "And at 39, he had a lot of life to live."

    "We're just hoping to find out who this person was," she said. "None of us want to see this happen to another family."

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