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A hit-and-run for Christmas

Theresa Pozzi was hit by a truck almost a year ago. Can you help find the driver who killed her?

Theresa Pozzi
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ANNA POZZI doesn't know what she will do with herself this Wednesday, Dec. 23, as the clock ticks toward 5:20 p.m. That's the time her daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver on State Road last year, just two days before Christmas.

"I'll probably lock myself in my bedroom and cry," says Pozzi, 62, her voice breaking for the thousandth time this miserable year.

"Jesus was born on a cold, dark night in a stable, and my daughter was killed on a cold dark night on State Road.

"I know that sounds disrespectful, but it's where I'm at," she says. "I don't care about Christmas. I decorated my window and put up the tree, and I smile for my grandchildren. But the smiles aren't real."

The real smiles ended when Theresa, after visiting an incarcerated friend last year, attempted to cross State Road in front of the city's prison complex. She was heading to the SEPTA stop for the southbound Route 84 bus.

She was struck by a northbound vehicle - an older model, dark-colored pickup or tow truck - and flew into the air, eyewitnesses said. The force of the impact pulled off her pants.

"He left her in the road like that - it's so humiliating and terrible," says Pozzi, with whom Theresa, who was 33 and single, lived on Kimball Street near the Italian Market.

"I keep wondering if she knew she was gonna die. When she was little, if she got sick all she wanted was me. She was close to my husband, but you know kids - when they're sick, they want mommy. I wonder if she wanted me."

Oh, my heart.

Theresa's hit-and-run death is one of three that remain unresolved in Philly from 2014. That year, 87 people perished in 86 auto-related incidents. In seven of the cases, the drivers fled the scene. Four of the cases have been cleared, but these last three are a thorn in the side of Sgt. Joe Rosso, who supervises fatality investigations for the Police Department's Accident Investigation Division.

"It's frustrating," he says. "There have to have been people who saw something but don't know what they saw. Something can happen so fast that you're not sure what you saw. Well, we need to talk to the people who maybe aren't sure of what they saw. Between what they tell us and what someone else tells us, we might get somewhere."

Case in point: A few years back, Rosso recalls, a driver was cut off by a speeding car and shrugged it off. Later, watching a news segment about a hit-and-run, he saw a video image of the same car that had cut him off shortly after the accident happened. His call to police led to an arrest.

Rosso hopes people will read this column and have similar epiphanies about Theresa's death and the other two unresolved fatalities from 2014:

On January 6, Leslie Smith, 60, was killed by a small red car at about 6:15 p.m. while walking across Island Avenue at Lindbergh Boulevard toward the Pennrose Plaza shopping center. The car sped south, toward Philadelphia International Airport.

And on Feb. 17, Nehemiah Gredic, 32, was hit by a black Jeep Grand Cherokee while tending to his bicycle on Kingsessing Avenue near 62nd Street. The vehicle, which sustained heavy damage on the right front hood and headlight, fled east.

"Solving the cases won't bring anyone back, but it can give the families some peace," says Rossa. "These drivers get me angry. The thing is, if they had stayed at the scene, they may not even have gotten in trouble. Sometimes an accident is just an accident."

Not knowing who killed her daughter is just about killing Anna Pozzi. And she believes it took the life of her husband, Gus, who died in May.

"He had heart problems, but when Theresa died, he just gave up," she says. "He sat every night waiting for her to come home or call. I came downstairs one morning and found him dead on the couch. He died of a broken heart. He's buried next to Theresa."

She has not been able to visit her daughter's grave nor buy a headstone for it, even though she has sketched out an image of what she wants it to look like. When she thinks of dialing the cemetery to place the order, she feels sick to her stomach and has to sit down.

Nor has she visited the street where her daughter died. That will change Wednesday, when a billboard will be unveiled at 10 a.m. at Clear Channel Outdoor, 9130 State Rd., just north of where Theresa was struck.

City Councilman Mark Squilla worked with Clear Channel and the nonprofit Wishwall Foundation to erect the billboard, which will advertise a $15,000 reward for information leading to be an arrest and conviction in Theresa's case. The billboard will be active for about 45 days.

Pozzi is steeling herself for the shock of seeing her late daughter's face illuminated high in the air for a terrible reason.

"I can't believe this is my life," says Pozzi, who has three surviving adult children and five grandchildren, who adored their "Aunt TeTe." Pozzi wears a locket with Theresa's photo in it, and she has gotten used to the kids opening it to kiss TeTe's face.

She, too, kisses her daughter's photo - every night before bed.

"I plead with her to guide us to the person who took her from us," she says. "We miss her so much. She was fun and kind - a good person. People say time heals all wounds, but that's not true. It's a whole year, and the pain is as bad as it was the day the police knocked on my door."

If you have information about the death of Theresa Pozzi, Leslie Smith or Nehemiah Gredic, call 215-546-TIPS or the Police Department's Accident Investigation Division at 215-685-3184.