12-year-old dies after being hit walking to school

Best friend witnessed crash; Loved ones hold vigil at crash site

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter , Francesca Amiker - Reporter

MAYPORT, Fla. - A 12-year-old boy died Monday morning after he was struck by an SUV at the intersection of Wonderwood Connector and A1A while walking to Mayport Middle School.

Police said the vehicle continued through a yellow light at the intersection about 8:30 a.m., hitting one of five children who were walking together. Hunter Allen Cope was taken to UF Health Jacksonville, where he died, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said.

Hunter's best friend, 13-year-old Dezaki Snyder, witnessed the crash.

“He was running, and we heard the horn honking, and we was like, 'Come back, come back,' and it was too late, and he just got hit,” Dezaki said. "I thought it was a dream at first. I didn't think it was happening. Then my stomach started to hurt, and that's when I knew it wasn't a dream."

The driver stopped and is cooperating with police. There was no word on whether she will face charges.

Dezaki's mother said she had to call Hunter's mother and let her know her son was hit.

"That could have been my child. I could be the one at that hospital right now," Ashley Snyder said. "I feel for the mother. I can only imagine what she's going through."

Dezaki called Hunter's father, Mathew Valentine, to break the news.

“Three hours later, when I came back to get my other two daughters, his shoes were still laying in the middle of the road, and I had to drive by and see that,” Valentine said.

He said he's frustrated because he's heard very little from investigators.

“He was the most loving, caring individual, and all  he did was care about people, but he didn't deserve this. It's tragic. Could this have been an accident? I don't know,” Valentine said. “Maybe I would know more if someone will tell me something.”

Valentine and his wife were surrounded Monday night by Hunter's loved ones, who gathered at the intersection where he was hit, lighting candles and holding balloons.

“All these people are the people that love Hunter,” Valentine said. “Everyone here is just a loving and caring individual, and that's the reason why all these people that he touched are here.”

Valentine said knowing how many people were affected by his son gives him some comfort.

"He was nice, sweet. He liked to play games. He just liked to hang out and play with everybody," Dezaki said. “He never wanted to see anyone down. He was funny, nice. He was one of the best friends you could have.”

Other friends also spoke in glowing terms of Hunter.

“I wish that he was still here, because he was a wonderful, wonderful person, and that should not have happened to him on accident or on purpose,” 12-year-old Brianna Cavaco said. “He should still be here today. It's not fair.”

Hunter's family has started a GoFundMe account to help pay the unexpected funeral costs.

Dangerous intersection

Other parents said the intersection is busy and many cars speed through the area. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, there were nine accidents at or near the intersection in the past six months, but Monday's was the only fatality.

One parent expressed concern about the crosswalk signal, saying that it shows only a walk or stop sign. She would like it to have a countdown like some other intersections have to give people, especially students, a better idea of how long they have to get across the street.

"I don't know if some people get confused at the blinking hands and think, 'Hey, you're not supposed to go there so I don't have to yield to you anymore,' but it does," Alicia Birch said.

The Florida Department of Transportation said it will study the intersection to add to its data collection to see if any changes need to be made.

"It's getting worse,” Birch said. “This is sad if this is what it takes for this to happen.”

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