A young Florida boy was struck and killed by an alleged hit-and-run driver months after his mother died in an accident along the same stretch of road.
Authorities say a Chevrolet pickup truck slammed into Tyler Pittard, who was walking with friends and relatives along the shoulder of Highway 90 on Saturday. The young boy was transported to the hospital where he died, according to Florida Highway Patrol. Police say the boy’s mother was also struck and killed by a truck in January — just a mile and a half away.
The crash occurred around 2:36 a.m. while Pittard and his group were returning from an evening of night fishing. The pickup truck was allegedly traveling in the outside lane, southbound on Highway 19 when it drifted onto the road’s shoulder and collided with the cluster of people.
“All three pedestrians were on the west shoulder,” according to a Florida Highway Patrol press release. “[The truck] exited off the paved portion of the roadway and onto the outside shoulder. Subsequently, [it] collided with all three pedestrians.”
The driver allegedly kept going after the collision.
Donald Keefer, a friend of Pittard’s family, was also killed; Pittard’s cousin, Misty Zipperer, survived the crash but is currently in critical condition. Another cousin, Justin Bembry, was reportedly unharmed.
The following day police received a phone call from a man who believed he may have been the driver. The man, identified as 45-year-old Zachary Nelson, told police he suspected he'd hit a deer, and admitted to not stopping after the collision, according to authorities.
“All evidence points to [Nelson] being the driver,” trooper Kenneth Watson, who specializes in hit-and-run investigations, told Oxygen.com.
Upon initial inspection, the man’s truck, a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado, matched the vehicle description from the accident and had damage consistent with the accident, Watson said. The truck has since been impounded by Florida Highway Patrol. Watson added that Nelson’s truck was “no longer driveable” at the time it was impounded.
“You know you hit something, you don’t know what you hit, and you’ve left the scene, you have to call law enforcement, you have to report this,” stressed Watson.
“The bottom line is when something like that happens, you stay on scene, you find out what you hit. I don’t care if it is an inanimate object, an animal or a person. You stay on scene and report that.”
Watson said that Nelson hasn’t yet been charged, but that an investigation is ongoing and traffic homicide charges are possible.
Meanwhile, the 13-year-old’s family is livid that there haven't been any charges yet.
“The whole family is enraged — it’s just unforgivable,” said Darcy Branch, Pittard’s great aunt, who spoke to Oxygen.com by telephone from a Florida funeral home.
“Accidents happen but what you do after the accident shows your integrity in life — and this man has none,” Branch, 54, added.
The thought of her nephew’s final moments, clinging to life in a “water-filled ditch,” she said, infuriates her.
Branch’s niece Mindy O’Neill — Pittard’s mother — was killed after a different pickup truck struck her while she was riding her bicycle along Highway 19 in January. Branch said her family is trying to make sense of their recent tragic losses.
“It’s been a very rough week, it’s like déjå vu because we just went through this six months ago with his mother,” Branch explained. “It’s unbelievable.”
Watson, the state trooper, was somewhat unnerved by the coincidental circumstances. The fact that they were hit and killed by vehicles on Highway 19 within miles — and months — of each other is “eerie” he said.
“You’re thinking about within the same location you have a mother killed, and then within months, you know, her son is killed close to that same roadway.”
Watson, who noted Pittard’s mother was killed after failing to yield when crossing Highway 19, insisted that the roadway is safe.
Branch since started a GoFundMe page for the family to help raise money for medical and funeral costs.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.