Search begins for driver in hit-and-run death of Lakeland woman

Search for hit-and-run driver

Investigators are asking for help in finding a driver who ran down a 74-year-old woman and left her for dead. 

Janice Joy had been walking about a mile from her Lakeland home when investigators say a pickup truck ran her down on Duff Road and never stopped to help.

The victim’s caregiver and next-door neighbor, Betty Mata, hopes the public can help find Joy’s killer.

“I'm angry.  I'm hurt, but more than anything I just want him to come forward, so I can understand why,” says Mata.

Mata says had overcome so much: a breast cancer and lung cancer survivor, living for a decade with Alzheimer’s, only to die on the side of the road.

Witnesses say the driver tapped the brakes after plowing down Joy then took off.

“She fought to live, and he took her life and left her there,” says Mata.



Mata’s son, Joshua Mata says, “(The driver) had a split second to think about what you were going to do, and you took the wrong path.”

Iinvestigators say caregivers helped to make home safe and secure for Joy, who didn't want to move to a nursing home, by blocking doors and using childproof knobs. Thursday morning, she left home and made it about a mile before she was killed.

“That's my guilt. Would she be here still if I would've put her in a nursing home?” wonders Mata.

There is a sidewalk on Duff Road, but it ends right where Joy got hit. Investigators say the driver had been heading east towards Highway 98 and believe whoever was behind the wheel may live or work in the area.

“You have a chance to turn yourself in. Let her rest in peace,” says Joshua Mata.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office is looking for a dark colored Ford F-150, 2004-2008. The impact knocked off the passenger side mirror cover.  Investigators say there's likely damage to the passenger side front panel or door.

The Matas loved Joy like family. They say they have faith in the Sheriff’s office and know the driver will be found.

“I want him to see her face every time he closes his eyes. I want him to see what he did,” says Betty Mata.

You could get a $3,000 reward, if you have information about the truck or the driver who hit Janice Joy.

Call Heartland Crimestoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS or submit a tip online:

The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with funeral arrangements:

(© 2016 WTSP)


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