Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

Plant City police arrest driver they say killed teen in hit-and-run

PLANT CITY — Elated by the New England Patriots' playoff win Sunday night, 16-year-old Brandon Michael Sullivan stepped out of his Plant City house to go to the corner gas station, most likely for a Mountain Dew.

The walk home should have taken 10 minutes. It was less than half a mile on the grassy strip along the curve of Turkey Creek Road, north of State Road 574. But police say it was cut short around 7:40 p.m. by a vehicle that struck Brandon and his friend, 15-year-old Erick Gonzalez.

Brandon died at the scene. Erick was hospitalized with a broken leg.

And the driver fled.

But acting on a tip, police announced late Monday they had located the car that struck the teens and arrested the driver.

The driver, identified as Timoteo Gabriel DeJesus, 23, of Plant City was found around 8 p.m. by a police dog as he hid in a pile of debris, police said.

DeJesus faces charges of leaving the scene of a traffic crash involving death, leaving the scene of a crash involving serious injury and driving without a license resulting in death. He was also being booked on an unrelated warrant on domestic battery.

Plant City police say they found the 1995 Lincoln Town Car he had been driving at the Woodbridge Apartments in Plant City after getting a tip.

From South Florida Baptist Hospital, a family friend of the injured teen, Rosie Cruz, said Erick was alert but in shock. "He's still in pain because of his friend," she said.

At Brandon's home, friends and family gathered with red-rimmed eyes.

Brandon, who was studying culinary arts at Simmons Career Center in Plant City, was on track to graduate next year, his family said.

He cooked at school every Friday, practicing to become a chef. Ever the teenager, his family said Brandon often spent Thursday nights scrambling to gather ingredients.

One Friday morning, the ride to school included an extra passenger: a hunk of tenderloin.

"He didn't mind cooking, but hated cleaning," said Brandon's stepfather, 39-year-old Earl Sizemore.

The youngest of three boys, Brandon went fishing with his brothers and became an ace pool player by age 8. The family's house, where neighborhood kids constantly knocked to find him, includes a converted garage furnished with a pool table.

Brandon called his middle brother "Goofy." His family didn't know why, but Brandon gave his friend Erick the nickname "Banana."

A series of photos on an iPhone revealed a light-hearted teen: Brandon made faces in each frame.

In several of them, Brandon wore a Florida Gators sweat shirt and had his arm slung around his mother.

"If Momma's happy, Brandon's happy," said his mom, 39-year-old Angel Sullivan. "He knew that I would always be there for him. I could tell him everything."

Her grief, she said, went beyond feeling hurt or angry.

She was lost.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds and staff writer Marissa Lang contributed to this story.

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