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Gainesville man recovering from hit and run in Florida

POSTED: March 25, 2013 6:03 p.m.
/For The Times

Zachary Wells of Gainesville is home now after recovering at Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System in Panama City Beach, Fla., after being hit by a vehicle March 17 while on spring break. Police are searching for the driver, who left the scene.

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — Zachary Wells was found, scraped, bloodied and bruised, alongside the road in the early hours of March 17.

Wells, 27, of Gainesville was alive when a passer-by noticed him at about 4:30 a.m. near the intersection of Front Beach Road and Petrel Street in Panama City Beach, Fla. Neither the passer-by nor anybody else police questioned had seen a vehicle sideswipe him from behind and then continue driving east on Front Beach Road.

“We don’t even know how long he had been lying there,” Zachary Wells’ mother, Stephanie Wells, said last week. “We don’t know anything at all.”

So far, Panama City Beach Police have no leads on who the driver is or what kind of vehicle hit Zachary Wells.

Authorities do know that Zachary Wells was walking back to where he was staying for spring break. He was only two block saway when the collision occurred. Wells said police found broken pieces of a side mirror on the shoulder of the road near the collision, but they need more to make an arrest.

Stephanie Wells drove down from Gainesville on March 19 after being notified around 1 p.m. She feared her son would be paralyzed from his injuries but later was assured he would be able to walk.

On Thursday afternoon, Stephanie Wells waited in the lobby of Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System as her son returned from surgery, with a metal plate reconnecting his fractured neck, staples in his scalp and gauze covering a wound on the front of his left foot where a large chunk was missing.

On Monday, though, Zachary Wells was back at class at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus, where he is a pre-nursing student.

“I’m still definitely sore as can be with a lot of pain and discomfort,” he told The Times. “It’s kind of difficult getting around and whatnot.”

His surgery made a huge difference, and Wells credited the staff at the hospital as well as his family, friends and God for a quick recovery.

He still doesn’t remember the accident, though, just waking up in the hospital, not knowing whether he was stabbed, beaten or what exactly had happened. He remembers having a good night out with friends, eating seafood and then heading back to the house where he was staying since he was leaving the next morning.

“Made it within like two blocks to where we were staying at,” he said. “I mean I was so close.”

Meanwhile, investigators are seeking the public’s help in identifying a suspect.

“They say the investigation is ongoing, but the chances of finding anyone are slim,” Stephanie Wells said. “We’d love to be able to find this person who did this. We are looking for anyone who saw anything.”

The case first went to the traffic homicide investigation unit because it was initially thought to involve life-threatening injuries. It will be turned back over to patrol, which will try to track down any witnesses.

“Right now we are at a dead end because there are no witnesses and the kid doesn’t remember much because he was hit from behind,” Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said.

Wells said he should make a full recovery, but he might not be able to be as adventurous this summer as he’d like.

“I’m hoping to be in my kayaks by next summer,” he said.

Times Metro Editor Shannon Casas contributed to this report.


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