Hit-and-run victim's family feels pain of losing 19-year-old

Teen struck, killed early Saturday morning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The family of a Jacksonville teen killed in a hit-and-run crash early Saturday in Sandalwood morning hopes someone speaks up so investigators can solve the case.

The Florida Highway Patrol said 19-year-old Christopher McDowell was walking north on St. Johns Bluff Road near Lost Pine Drive when he was struck and killed. The driver did not stop.

Authorities say they may be looking for either a silver or gray metallic SUV or possibly a truck.

Hazel Gillis said she never imagined losing her nephew in a hit-and-run crash.

"I miss his smile and him talking to me," Gillis said. "We would talk about school, everyday life, what's in his future, his aspirations. He was a lovely young man."

McDowell was just one month from starting college, had dreamed of studying engineering, and had moved into his own apartment just one day before the accident.

"The last thing I ever said to him was, 'Christopher, be careful walking on the highways around here. These are busy highways and intersections.' That was the last thing I said to him," said George Gillis, McDowell's uncle. "Then he said, 'Thank you,' and I walked away and eventually drove away."

McDowell's death comes as yet another heartbreak for a community already grieving multiple hit-and-run deaths, many of them still unsolved. In November, 15-year-old Haley Smith was killed as she walked with friends along Kenton Morrison Road in St. Johns County. Just days before, Randy Miller was hit and killed as he rode his bike on State Road 16, also in St. Johns County.

And last May, 25-year-old Michael England's body was found in a Northside intersection, another victim of a hit-and-run driver.

"This is happening far too often," said Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson.

He said it's not too late for those responsible to turn themselves in.

"They'll still have to face the music about leaving the scene of an accident with serious injuries or death," he said. "But the conscience will get the best of some people and they'll go ahead and turn themselves in. Then there are some drivers who will run until you find them."

McDowell's family still prays that someone will speak up. In the meantime, they also pray for other victims and their families.

"I can understand what they're going through now," Hazel Gillis said. "Sometimes we don't understand until we're put in the same situation."

Anyone with information about the fatal hit-and-run is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.

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