Just one day after troopers made a break in a fatal hit-and-run investigation in Lincoln County, an arrest was made.
Travis Kirk Fitzpatrick, 33, of Sherrills Ford, was charged Saturday morning after troopers said they received an anonymous tip.
The suspect is accused of striking Sherry Kittle, 53, of Kershaw Trail, with his vehicle Wednesday night while she walked along the side of U.S 321 Business (Maiden Highway).
Neighbors said she often walked along the road because her vehicle needed repairing.
Kittle was pronounced dead at Carolinas Medical Center-Lincoln shortly after Emergency Medical Services transported her to the facility, troopers said.
Father and son, Hernesto and Randy Guardado, who live on Maiden Highway at Summerow Road, discovered the woman lying in their front yard after the crash.
They said they heard an alarming noise and looked outside, spotting her body. They immediately contacted 911.
On Friday, after combing through his yard, the 12-year-old boy found the vehicle’s antenna, troopers said, making a significant break in the case.
Law enforcement officials took the vehicle part to Skeet’s Auto Body Repair & Wrecker Service in Conover, where owner Skeet Hartis contacted the part’s manufacturer, Chevrolet, and learned the type of antenna had been placed on Silverados, Tahoes and Suburbans for years 2001 to 2006.
The antenna design also matched the marks on Kittle’s body.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol has partnered with Skeet’s on a number of investigations over the years.
“It’s a community partnership when something like this happens,” Trooper Sgt. Kelly Stewart said.
Fitzpatrick was jailed just after 5 a.m. Saturday, and posted a $25,000 secured bond three hours later, jail officials with the Harven A. Crouse Detention Center said.
Stewart and fellow trooper, Dan Souther, also a collision reconstructionist with Highway Patrol, spent hours Friday night scouring the area in search of a vehicle that matched their narrowed-down description.
The two officers entered the information into a data base program that showed 1,700 Lincoln County locations with one of the three Chevy models made during the six-year timeframe, forcing them to start their search in areas located closest to the crash site, Stewart said.
Shortly after the troopers visited 20 to 30 locations, ending their search for the night, Stewart said he received a call from another officer who said an anonymous tip had come through Crime Stoppers.
The tip led troopers to a home at 6777 Little Mountain Road in Sherrills Ford, Kirkpatrick’s mother’s residence, where the suspect also lives.
According to Stewart, troopers would never have found the vehicle without the tip.
He said the suspect’s 2001 Chevy Silverado had been hidden from plain sight and was parked behind a farmhouse in a wooded area at the end of the property’s long driveway.
Not only did the vehicle fit the description of one of the three vehicle models but it also had the exact damage troopers had been looking for since Wednesday night.
Because Kirkpatrick was not at the home at the time, his mother gave troopers his cell phone number.
Stewart said officers contacted him multiple times before he agreed to meet them in an area near the Lincoln County school bus garage in Lincolnton.
He eventually turned himself in at the neutral location and cooperated with authorities, confessing to “accidentally” striking Kittle, troopers said.
“His only request was that we don’t put him on the ground like they show on television cop shows,” Stewart said.
Around 6 a.m. Saturday, after troopers had charged Kirkpatrick and placed him behind bars, Stewart called Kittle’s son Jeremiah and told him the news.
The vehicle has since been seized as case evidence and will eventually be DNA tested.