MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – For the last 20 months, residents living along 9th Avenue Northwest in Bradenton have missed seeing the friendly face of 82-year-old Joey Dralus.
He was well known in the tight-knit community. Every day, he walked about five miles along the same path.
He put up a “peace sign” to virtually everyone he passed. Over the years, he gained the nickname the “Peace Walker.” He was dearly loved by many in the community.
“It was just a pleasure to see him, to talk to him, to wave at him,” said neighbor Ernie Passerini. “He was a very nice guy. Everybody loved him in the neighborhood.”
In April 2020, the 82-year-old was on one of his daily walks when he was struck by an SUV. The driver didn’t stop to help him.
Following a lengthy investigation, investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol made an arrest in the case this month. Teresa Zepp, 57, was charged with hit-and-run in a crash involving death and destroying evidence.
Surveillance footage provided to FHP by a neighbor showed the suspect pulling over shortly after the crash, getting out of her vehicle, checking the front end, and wiping it off before getting back in the vehicle and driving off.
“Trying to not be accountable and clean and cover it up and getting help from other family members is… not to sound harsh, but that is unforgivable,” said the victim’s son Joe Dralus Jr. “You need to be held accountable for that, and that is a big part of this right now. That is not going to go.”
“It is stunning to learn that someone could actually strike another person, leave the scene, and your only concern was your vehicle,” FHP Trooper Kenn Watson said. “The bottom line is we want to make sure that we bring people like that to justice, and we want to make sure that the community also understands that,” he continued.
Trooper Watson, who worked this case, credits the public for their help in bringing it to a close.
“We had a member of the community that saw something that was suspicious, came to us and advised that she may have information in regard to the crash. Without this person stepping up, we would not be where we are today… So, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Dralus family I’m sure would like to thank this person. Without their assistance, this case would have most likely never been solved, but working together, we were able to bring this family justice.”
“The community and everything really was just wonderful through the whole thing,” Dralus Jr. said.
Zeppi bonded out of the Manatee County Jail last week. Her arraignment is scheduled for Friday, January 21.
The Dralus family plans to be there every step of the way as this case makes its way through the court system.