By Marion V. Ali
John Baptist, 41, handed himself in to Punta Gorda police on Monday after confessing to knocking down a man and fleeing the scene, leaving behind the victim, Jose Morales, 56, a Guatemalan of Big Falls Village, Toledo, and his vehicle at the scene of the incident between miles 19 and 20 on the Southern Highway.
Baptist, who reports say was socializing at a bar in Big Falls Village just prior to the hit-and-run incident around 1:00 a.m. on Monday, admitted to police that he got out of his vehicle and fled the scene on foot, out of fright.
Police say Morales was walking on the highway, when Baptist’s Supercab Ford Ranger struck him, breaking the headlamp on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Police also suspect that someone moved the victim from the actual spot where he was struck and covertly placed him at another location, resulting in the lapse between the time of the incident and the time when the body was found.
Police have charged Baptist with seven traffic offences, including manslaughter by negligence, causing death by careless conduct, driving without due care and attention, driving an unlicensed motor vehicle, driving an uninsured motor vehicle, failure to stop and render aid, and failure to report a traffic accident.