MANATEE -- It was tough for Jim Sanders, 62, to speak about his late wife of 6 1/2 years, Joyce Sanders. On Monday, the Sarasota resident stood in front of multiple media outlets and spoke about his beloved who was killed in a hit-and-run crash on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014.
Sanders and his wife worked together back in Evansville, Ind., for three decades. Friends first, both had previously been married to spouses who died.
"One thing led to another and, come to find out, she was my soulmate," Sanders said.
On Halloween morning, the couple was out along Honore Avenue for their daily 8-mile walk when Joyce was hit by a pickup truck. The 64-year-old was killed instantly.
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"It's just been a nightmare. I still see that," Sanders said of the horrific moment. "I was right next to her."
Sanders said authorities know the owners of the truck that struck his wife, but haven't been able to identify who drove it the day of Joyce's fatal accident.
Sanders and his wife would have celebrated their seventh-year wedding anniversary this past Valentine's Day.
His testimony was part of a state-wide campaign for Hit & Run Awareness Month by the Florida Highway Patrol. Held at the FHP Station at 5023 53rd Ave. E., Bradenton, the press conference was organized in collaboration with the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Department of Transportation.
"This campaign aims to reduce the number of hit-and-run crashes in Florida by educating drivers on their responsibilities if involved in a crash and the consequences they face if they leave," said FHP Capt. John Donovan. "As a driver, it is your responsibility to remain at the crash scene."
Officials urge those involved in a crash to call law enforcement, remain calm, obtain information on vehicle, witness or witnesses and driver, sketch the scene and help the injured.
According to FHP officials, hit-and-run crashes involving fatalities increased 23 percent from 2013 to 2014. In 2014, there were 1,339 hit-and-run crashes in Manatee County, according to FHP reports, which was an increase from 1,172 hit-and-run crashes in 2013.
In Sarasota County, FHP reported 1,036 hit-and-run crashes in 2014. In 2013, there were 1,017 crashes reported.
For Donovan, who has worked for FHP for 27 years, these cases are very difficult from law enforcement's perspective.
"For one thing, we want to have closure for the families, especially in these fatal crashes or where people are severely injured. They want to know what happened, they want to know why the person left and, probably least, they want someone punished for it," he said. "But it's always that question -- why didn't they stay? Maybe they could have stopped and given some kind of treatment, and then helped save a life."
Cassie Galanopoulos, 41, of Bradenton, also spoke at the FHP press conference. Her brother Anthony Galanopoulos, 44, was riding his bike to work in Bradenton on Jan. 9 when he was hit and killed by an unknown driver.
"There's no way to cope. I don't think I'll ever recover," Galanopoulos said of her older brother's death. "The person who hit my brother has not been caught yet and I feel it's important that we get the word out for all hit-and-runs."
On Galanopoulos' neck hung a round, blue pendant made of glass that glittered under the bright sun. Inside the pendant are some of Anthony's ashes. She and her brother has a special relationship because they were close in age, Galanopoulos said. They loved each other very much.
"My brother is now an ash in a glass that I carry around my neck," she said. "All because of a hit-and-run."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.