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Grieving family seeks answers in hit-and-run death

Theodore Thomas Jr. was hit by a car near the Gallery and died 13 days later.

Adrienne Kaplan cradles a photo of her son, Theodore Thomas Jr., who died after being hit by a car in Center City. Thomas' family is trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Adrienne Kaplan cradles a photo of her son, Theodore Thomas Jr., who died after being hit by a car in Center City. Thomas' family is trying to make sense of the tragedy.Read moreED HILLE / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Adrienne Kaplan and Theodore Thomas today will bury their 22-year-old son, the victim of a hit-and-run accident in Center City.

They are coping, as well as they can, with the question of why he had to go at such a young age.

Police have questions also. They want to know who was driving the car that struck Theodore Thomas Jr. in the early evening of Feb. 22 near the Gallery as he crossed Market Street to meet a friend.

"It hurts like hell right now," Kaplan said from her rowhouse in Frankford, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and two other sons. "It could help me find closure if they could find this person."

"Theo" was the oldest of the four and a graduate of Frankford High School. He called his only sister "Babydoll" and often came home with video games or DVDs for his siblings after cashing his paycheck.

Feb. 22 was a cold Friday. Snow had turned to rain, roads were slick and accidents were many. Thomas had cashed his paycheck from the fast-food restaurant where he worked in South Philadelphia as a cashier.

He was near the Gallery, his money in his pocket, with plans to go to FYE electronics store, his favorite place to shop, his family said.

It's unclear whether he had already been shopping. Police said by the time he had come out of the Gallery and was crossing Market, at Ninth Street, it was already dark. He was struck by an eastbound car about 6:25 p.m.

A friend was walking behind Thomas. Another friend was in his car, parked on Market, waiting for them to cross. Passersby were in the area, but it doesn't appear anyone saw the whole accident, said Officer Paul Busch of the Accident Investigation District.

Witnesses described a red or maroon Mazda Millenia that possibly went through a red light, Busch said. The car likely had significant damage to the front end and windshield.

There were no pieces of the vehicle left behind to confirm that the small coupe or sedan was actually a Mazda. Police may learn more by analyzing paint left at the scene.

No one saw the license plate. Kaplan said witnesses told police they watched the car speed off, expecting the driver to circle back as Thomas lay bleeding.

Thomas' sister, Tiffany Thomas, 19, said she can't understand how the driver could flee.

"I don't understand how they can wake up every day to their family and know they did that to our family," Thomas said. "How could you not know you hit someone?"

Thomas was rushed to Jefferson University Hospital, where he remained unconscious for 13 days until his death earlier this month.

Kaplan said she's thankful for the care doctors and nurses gave her son. She thinks they were hoping for a medical miracle to overcome his injuries, which included severe brain trauma, a broken jaw, and a leg broken in three places.

"He was just starting out and was planning to go back to school, take some college classes," said Theodore Thomas Sr., who gets a hitch in his voice recalling the day his first son was born at 7 pounds, 14 ounces.

"He was a kind person," Thomas said. "He would do anything for you. He would give you the shirt off his back. He was a clean-cut kid."

Thomas said he hasn't been able to sleep since the accident.

Police, meanwhile, are asking anyone with information to contact investigators at 215-685-3180.