LACOOCHEE — He would have stopped.
Family and friends have no doubt that's what Joe Sampson would have done had the roles been reversed, had he been the one driving the tow truck that collided with the wrecked pickup on U.S. 301.
But a mystery tow truck driver rammed Sampson's 2004 Chevy Silverado on Thursday evening and sped away. Sampson, an 83-year-old church deacon, died.
"He definitely would have stopped," said his widow, Norma. "I just can't fathom the idea that there's already a wreck and you still hit somebody and you do not stop."
Here's what troopers say happened:
Sampson was traveling southeast on U.S. 98, trying to turn left onto U.S. 301. His truck crossed into the path of 39-year-old James S. Cramer's pickup and the two vehicles collided at 8:18 p.m.
Sampson's truck was disabled and came to a stop in the southbound lanes of U.S. 301. About 30 seconds to one minute after the crash, a tow truck smashed into the left side of the truck, pushing it several feet.
Sampson was pronounced dead at the scene. Cramer, of Webster, was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center with serious injuries.
The tow truck fled the scene and was last seen going south on U.S. 301. Witnesses saw that the tow truck, possibly red with a brush guard attached to the front, has heavy front-end damage.
On Friday, friends and relatives mourned the loss of Sampson, a warm-hearted hog farmer who came to area years ago from Arkansas and raised 11 children.
"He would do anything for anyone," Mrs. Sampson said. If anyone in the community got sick, he was the first to organize a fundraiser. When someone hit hard times, Sampson would offer day labor to put cash in their pocket.
"He wanted everybody to know God," Mrs. Sampson said. "He said one day we will all see his face, and we've got to try to treat other people as we wish to be treated."
Sampson, who at one time had 200 hogs on his property but now had about 30, loved his work. He enjoyed selling meat at low cost to friends who wanted to have a holiday barbecue. And he never got tired of eating bacon, sausage, ham and chops.
A few weeks ago, he had a hog butchered and stocked the freezer.
"He was an awesome person," said Wilton Simpson, a Trilby egg farmer who went to school with two of Sampson's sons.
He saw Sampson about two weeks ago and said he talked about how different the younger generation was from its elders.
"Typical grandfather talk," Simpson said. He said Sampson said "he was an old man who enjoyed his work."
Sampson's community involvement didn't diminish with age. He was the oldest deacon at his church, Greater Love Outreach Ministries in Hernando County.
Tampa Tribune columnist Imani Asukile wrote in 2008 that hearing Sampson sing the hymn Try Jesus “gets my blood moving."
Sampson also knew everyone, his family said. He counted as a close friend Charles "Bo" Harrison, the Pasco sheriff's lieutenant who was gunned down in 2003 near a nightclub only two weeks before he planned to retire.
"They'd meet and have breakfast," Mrs. Sampson said.
After Harrison's death, Sampson showed up to community meetings focused on improving Lacoochee.
As leaders lamented how community neglect contributed to the climate that resulted in Harrison's death, Sampson piped up.
"Children first have to be raised at home," he said.
Times staff writer Danny Valentine and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.