Driver sought in fatal hit-and-run

Short-order cook was headed across U.S. 70 in Garner for an early-morning bite to eat

Staff WriterJanuary 19, 2006 

Garner police were searching Wednesday for a vehicle with significant front-end damage that may have been involved in a deadly hit-and-run collision that killed a 50-year-old man.

Johnny Ray Pilkington, who was apparently headed for a bite to eat at the restaurant where he worked as a short-order cook, was found dead in the grass along U.S. 70 early Wednesday morning.

"We are looking for a vehicle with front-end damage," Garner police Sgt. Joe Binns said Wednesday afternoon. "Damage to a front panel, the hood and the windshield."

Pilkington's body was spotted by a passing motorist at about 4:20 a.m., just off the 1500 block of U.S. 70 West near Mechanical Boulevard.

Police think the incident happened between 1:30 a.m. and the time Pilkington's body was found.

Pilkington was staying at the nearby Suburban Lodge extended-stay motel on U.S. 70 West. His body was found less than a block from the motel, according to police reports.

Leslie Dean, a Suburban Lodge counter attendant, said Pilkington and his girlfriend had checked in to the motel this week.

"He was between residences," Tracy Pilkington, his sister in-law, said Wednesday night. "He was living on [U.S.] 401 with a friend who sold his home. He was in the process of moving."

Pilkington was born in Raleigh and was a graduate of Broughton High School. He worked the early-morning shift at the Waffle and Pancake House across the street from the motel where he was staying, his sister in law said.

"That's where he was headed when he got hit," Tracy Pilkington said.

Based on where Pilkington was found on the side of the highway -- a busy commuter corridor flanked by convenience stores, restaurants and economy-priced motels -- police say they are certain the vehicle that hit him was traveling westbound on U.S. 70, Binns said.

Investigators have very little evidence, including information about the make and model of the vehicle.

"We are very upset, hurt and hoping and praying that whoever did this will come forward," Tracy Pilkington said. "An accident is an accident. There are no ill feelings."

Pilkington's body was taken to the state medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill for an autopsy.

Anyone with information about the fatal crash is urged to call the Garner Police Department at 772-8810.

(News researcher Lamara Williams Hackett contributed to this report.)

Staff writer Thomasi McDonald can be reached at 829-4533 or tmcdonal@newsobserver.com

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