Troopers: Florida couple charged in fatal 2020 hit-and-run

January 10, 2022 GMT

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — A husband and wife from north Florida have been arrested in connection with a fatal hit-and-run in 2020, officials said.

Jose Antonio Diaz, 35, and his 33-year-old wife Elia Diaz, surrendered to authorities last week, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Elia Diaz is charged with hit-and-run and failure to stop or remain at a crash scene involving a death, the agency said. Her husband is charged with tampering with evidence. Both were released from jail after posting bond.

Troopers said Darlene Joy Hopaluk, 58, was killed in September 2020 as she walked along a road in Belleview, near Ocala.

“It has been a long process for the investigators to complete, but at least we know there’s accountability,” her daughter, Stephanie Burchette, told the Ocala Star-Banner.

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Hopaluk and a friend were walking around 6 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2020, when the friend saw headlights and told her to get out of the way, troopers said. The 2019 Dodge Durango hit Hopaluk, killing her. The vehicle did not stop, officials said.

While inspecting the crash, troopers found the vehicle’s front grill emblem.

The next day the couple took the SUV to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Elia Diaz told troopers she knew she had hit something, but was frightened and did not stop. She said she had called her husband, who told her to come home.

Jose Diaz told investigators that he cleaned the damaged areas and tried removing dents from the SUV. They did not call their insurance company to report the crash, troopers said.

They were not arrested at the time. Investigators sent evidence recovered from the vehicle to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory for analysis.

Troopers interviewed the couple a second time and they agreed to surrender last week. A lawyer who could speak on their behalf was not listed on court records.