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Tip leads to arrest in 2002 hit-run death

Every night before bed, Stephen McKenney hangs his cross on the wall beside him and says good night to his dead son.

Four years ago tonight, 15-year-old Cory McKenney was killed while riding his bicycle on a dark road in Sumter County. The driver fled the scene.

When an arrest isn't made in the first few days after a hit-and-run, making a case gets much harder. The vehicle disappears. The witnesses move away. The case quickly grows cold.

But this August, the Florida Highway Patrol got a tip about the driver's identify. On Nov. 18, the patrol arrested Justin W. Fletcher, 30, in Spring Hill, and charged him with leaving the scene of an accident with death.

Stephen McKenney, 44, always knew it would end with a tip out of the blue.

A disabled veteran from Pinellas Park, McKenney was ruined by the accident. He sank into depression, turned to alcohol and medication and couldn't stand anyone around him - ever.

Deana McKenney, Cory's mother, at first thought the driver would never get caught. The investigation slowed nearly to a halt, but the 46-year-old never could get Cory's death out of her mind.

The anniversary of Cory's death always hits her hard - she said her life feels empty. But this year, at least, Fletcher's arrest brings some hope.

Born on April 1, 1987, Cory Adam McKenney took his middle name from Adam Walsh, the son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh. Adam Walsh was abducted in South Florida in 1981 and murdered.

"That touched us so much that's why we named him in honor of Adam," Stephen McKenney said. "Then turn around and that's what happened to him. We discussed that. Did we curse him?"

In the days after the crash, authorities asked for the public's help finding a silver car or truck with front-end damage - that's what the paint chips on the mangled bike pointed to.

Relatives and friends drove through Bushnell looking for the silver vehicle with no luck.

In August, a tip pointed to Justin Fletcher.

"Victims' families get discouraged when it goes so long," said Trooper Larry Coggins Jr. "But this was a prime example where people's conscience weighs on them and they come forward and turn themselves in or give us the tip we need."

No one will say where the tip came from.

Reached by phone, Fletcher said he'd "love to talk" but referred questions to Peyton Hyslop, his attorney.

Hyslop said Fletcher didn't even own the pickup back in 2002 - it belonged to a family member. He added that Fletcher's family has an extensive criminal history.

Many details of the case have not been revealed, as the Highway Patrol investigator on the case is not allowed to talk with the media until it goes to trial.

Fletcher's arraignment is set for Dec. 20.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

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