[UPDATE] Off-Duty Officer Killed In Hit and Run Traffic Crash

By: Amy Long Email
By: Amy Long Email

UPDATED 4/7/2011 11:05pm by Amy Long
Tallahassee, FL- A small garden blooms where Tallahassee Police Officer Michael Saunders used to parked his patrol car outside of his home.

Saunders left home for his routine morning jog back on December 12, 2009, but never made it back. That's because he was hit and left to die near Orange Avenue and Paul Dirac Drive.

Ervin Hargrett, OFC Saunders neighbor says he remembers where he was when he caught wind of the tragedy. "It was unbelievable when we got a call from his wife, Martha saying that Mike was killed this morning. Definitely unbelievable that a person could just hit another human being like that and just keep going."

During a pretrial hearing on Thursday, 4/7 Guy Jones, the man behind the wheel of the van that struck Saunders, pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter.

OFC Derek Friend with Tallahassee Police Department says, "I think it's a step in the right direction to acknowledge his responsibility and it will just have to go forward from there."

Saunders' widow did not wish to comment on camera, but said she's happy Jones pleaded guilty so she would not have to relive the hardship during a trial.

Meantime, those who knew him best remember the man they lost. "He was a very good person and it was a very tremendous loss to this community." says Hargrett.

OFC Friend added, "He was a great guy, always quick with a smile and one of those people who really are the core of the Tallahassee Police Department."

Guy Jones will be sentenced on June 8th at 3pm.

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Updated 6:45 p.m. 12-15

Bowden's Carpet Cleaning advertises 24-hour emergency service. But the company's lawyer says 22-year-old Guy Jones was not supposed to be driving one of the company vans in the wee hours of the morning last Saturday.

That's when Tallahassee Police Officer Michael Saunders was hit and killed near Paul Dirac and Orange Avenue.

One of Jones' neighbors said, "Whatever or whoever had been hit, they were hurt. You could definitely tell there was an accident in that van."

The neighbor says she spotted Jones' company work van that night in the Willow Bend Apartment Complex where they live, and put two and two together when she noticed the Chevy was seemingly hidden and banged up.

She said, "The front end, it looked like the bumper was missing and it was just really bad. That was fishy. It was very severely damaged. You could tell that something large was hit."

The arrest report says the Chevrolet "bow tie" emblem, a right passenger side mirror, front blinker, and other vehicle pieces were left at the scene.

TPD SGT Eric Childs has worked with Saunders since 1992. He said, "Mike was the person I could lean on at times. He would tell me, hey, Eric, calm down, everything's going to be alright. So, he was definitely a good friend to me. I'm going to miss him greatly."

An officer reported overhearing a phone conversation Jones had with someone in an interrogation room.

The report says the person asked, "Did you kill somebody" and Jones replied "Hu-huh."

The person then said "Was it an accident?" and "Were you drinking?" to which Jones indicated the affirmative to both.

The arrest report says on the next day, Jones told his boss at Bowden's Carpet Cleaning that he'd hit a deer.

Bowden felt the van's extensive damage was inconsistent with a deer hit; so the report says Bowden called his attorney, who in turn called police.

The owners of Bowden's Carpet Cleaning, Marlon and Angela Bowden released a statement regarding Officer Saunders: "The sudden death of Officer Saunders is a tragedy for the Tallahassee community, and our hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Although the suspect in custody, Mr. Guy Jones, is a former employee of Bowden Carpet Cleaning, he did not have authorization to use the company vehicle after hours. Mr. Jones broke our protocol and policies before committing this senseless act. Bowden Carpet Cleaning has always been dedicated to honesty and integrity, and we will continue to serve the Tallahassee Community as we have for the last 12 years. We trust that our customers and neighbors will not allow this tragic event to cloud our good name and reputation."

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Updated 6:25 p.m. 12-14

Funeral Services for OFC Mike Saunders have been set.
Visitation services will be held Wednesday night at the Strong and Jones funeral home at 551 West Carolina Street from six to eight.
The funeral will be Thursday at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church at 224 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd at noon.

"We're walking around under a cloud but we're going to get through this. Our hopes, wishes and prayers go out to his wife and his family," said OFC Danny Jeter with the Tallahassee Police Department.

Officer Mike Saunders worked with the Tallahassee Police Department for 26-years.

A flag at half-staff and a flickering candle memorial are reminders that he won't be reporting for duty anymore.

Saunders died Saturday morning after he was hit by a van while he was out on a morning walk.

Now 22-year old Guy Jones faces charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving a fatality.

But folks at TPD are just trying to get through a workweek without one of their veteran officers.

"They're mourning the loss of Mike but also celebrating his life. We hear stories about Mike and the job that he did and the smile and the grin that was always on his face. Those are some things we are going to remember and really cherish," added Jeter.

Guy Jones was released from the Leon County Jail on Sunday afternoon on 35-thousand dollars bond.

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Updated 7:35a.m 12-14

The man accused of hitting an off-duty police officer with his van - and leaving him for dead has been released on bail.

22-year-old Guy Jones appeared before a Leon County Judge Sunday morning on charges of vehicular homicide, failing to stop at the scene of an accident involving death, and driving with a suspended license.

Jones is accused of hitting officer Michael Saunders of the Tallahassee Police Department on Paul Dirac Drive Saturday morning and then leaving.

Officer Saunders was out for a walk at the time. He died at the scene.

The bond for Jones was set at more than 35-thousand dollars.
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Update 12/12/2009 6:00pm

A white male by the name of Guy Jones turned himself in to the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office this afternoon. He is being charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or death and vehicular homicide. There could be more charges pending.

We will provide more information as it becomes available.
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The following is a press release form TPD:

Updated 12:47 p.m. 12/12/09
The victim of the fatal hit-and-run crash reported earlier this morning has been identified as Tallahassee police officer Michael P. Saunders. It is believed that Officer Saunders was on a brisk walk on Paul Dirac Drive before reporting for duty when a vehicle struck him. Officer Michael Saunders joined the Police Department January 1983.

Chief Jones said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of a respected, veteran Tallahassee police officer. Our prayers are with Officer Saunders’ family and friends. In addition to assisting his family during this time of loss, every effort is being made to locate the vehicle and apprehend the person or persons responsible for the death of Officer Saunders.”

The Tallahassee Police Department is asking that anyone who may have witnessed the crash or has any information that will help solve this crime to please contact the department at (850) 891-4200 or Crime Stoppers at (850) 574-TIPS (8477). You could be eligible for a cash reward.

Suspect Vehicle:

Large white Chevrolet, possibly a truck, van or SUV, with extensive front-end damage

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Saturday, December 12 at approximately 4:48 a.m. the Tallahassee Police Department responded to Paul Dirac Drive, north of West Orange Avenue, in reference to a passerby who discovered an adult male lying motionless in the roadway.

Upon arrival, officers determined the male was deceased and officers discovered crash debris strewn in the area.

Tallahassee Police Department Traffic Homicide Investigators are currently working the case as a fatal hit-and-run traffic crash involving a pedestrian.

The identity of the deceased male is being withheld until proper identification and next of kin notification can be made.

Suspect Vehicle:

Large white Chevrolet, possibly a truck or SUV, with extensive front end damage.

Anyone with information about this crime is asked to contact the Tallahassee Police Department at (850) 891-4200 or Crime Stoppers at (850) 574-TIPS (8477). You could be eligible for a cash reward.


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