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Palmetto family grieving after 13-year-old killed in hit and run

Manatee County

PALMETTO, Fla. (WFLA) – A Palmetto family is in mourning. A 13-year-old boy and a 47-year-old family friend were killed in a hit and run.

For Patricia Rolston, it doesn’t seem real. Her nephew, 13-year-old Tyler Pittard, is gone.

“I can’t wrap my head around this happening, its hard,” she said.

At around 2:30 Saturday morning, family members say Pittard was walking along the shoulder of US 19 with a group of adults after fishing.

Then, troopers say a truck driven by Zachary Nelson weaved off the road, slammed into them, and took off!

13-year-old Tyler Pittard

Pittard was killed along with a family friend, 47-year-old Donald Keefer.

Pittard’s cousin, Misty Zipperer, was taken to Blake Medical Center in critical condition.

Nelson turned himself in the next day, claiming he thought he hit a deer.

“There’s not a lot of deer running around in Palmetto,” said FHP Trooper Kenn Watson. “Without question he was distracted- why else would he ride off the road?”

47-year-old Donald Keefer

Nelson was not available for comment. Pittard’s family is furious.

“You don’t hit people and say, ‘Oh I thought it was a deer.’ You don’t do that. You check, make sure, you know, before you drive away. But he didn’t, he just drove away,” said Rolston. “I know he called in about that but that doesn’t help nothin’ You can’t bring Tyler back, so I’m angry.”

But what makes this so difficult, is that the family has gone through this before.

Pittard’s mother, Mindy O’Neill died in a bike accident on this same stretch of road in January.

“Its bad, you know. Didn’t get over, losing his mom and now him? Its just you know, real bad,” said Rolston. “This couldn’t be happening again, this cannot be happening again.”

Officials say Nelson will likely face charges but the case is under investigation.

“I want him to get what he deserves,” said Rolston.

“It is incumbent upon us to do a full investigation regardless of someone admitting any fault or not,” said Watson.

The family is pushing for changes. They want railings and safety measures to be put in place at US 19 to prevent more accidents.

FHP insists the road is safe.

“US 19 is well lit, we have street lights up and down this highway,” said Trooper Kenn Watson.

Pittard had just started at King Middle School last week. School officials say grief counselors were made available on Monday.

The family has set up a GoFundMe account.

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