LEESBURG — The Lake County Medical Examiner's Office has identified the first of two bodies found in the Gulf of Mexico in recent weeks as 35-year-old Darien Peckham of Tampa.
Peckham, a cancer researcher and breast cancer activist, and his friend, 28-year-old Zachary Schlitt, were flying to Tampa from Tallahassee Nov. 30 in a private aircraft that authorities say disappeared near Yankeetown.
His body was found by a commercial vessel Dec. 9, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Peckham's aunt, Donna Lewis of Port St. Lucie, said the family prayed that he would be found and they knew the first torso was his long before the positive identification was made.
The medical examiner used his mother's DNA, as well as his own, to make the identification.
"We thank God that we had him for 35 years and we thank God that we got him back," Lewis said.
Peckham has had two memorial services in the Tampa area, the most recent on Dec. 8, but Lewis said now he will have a final service in Port. St. Lucie on Sunday.
"His wish was to be cremated and for his ashes to sprinkled in the Tampa Bay, so we're going to do that."
Friend and colleague of 12 years, Dr. John Cox, said it's sad to hear that Peckham is really gone. The two worked together at University Community Hospital and both got their start at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.
"He was very, very, very nice and whoever got to know him knew how caring he was," Cox said.
As for Schlitt, Lewis said she is sure he was amazing and she is thankful they found a second body in the gulf.
That body was discovered Thursday near Homosassa by leisure boaters and is awaiting positive identification.
"We didn't want to have Darien back and the other family's child remain missing," she said. "We were so happy to hear they discovered more remains."
Peckham and Schlitt were both certified pilots, but neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the Coast Guard has determined who was flying when an airport traffic controller in Jacksonville reported losing radar contact with them at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Peckham is survived by his mother, Ginger Jeanne Peckham-Lewis; his father, Gary William Peckham; sisters Jeanne Marie, Heatherley Dawn and Destiny Peckham; and a brother Gary, William Peckham Jr.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or email@example.com.