82-year-old motorcyclist, hit-and-run victim, dies from injuries

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The Florida Highway Patrol reports that a victim of a hit-and-run case in Hardee County has died. 82-year-old Jim Berry of Winter Haven died from his injuries Monday morning.

April 13, troopers say Berry was riding his motorcycle down U.S. 17 in Wauchula when the driver of a white Dodge Ram pickup truck, coming from Morales Road, crossed in front of him. With no time to react, Berry's motorcycle hit the side of the truck.

"That person actually got out of the truck and looked at the person on the ground and he left," recalled witness Ruby Martinez.

A witness snapped a photo of the truck before the other driver, described as a male, took off. So far, no one has been arrested. 

Jim Berry leaves behind his wife, Janet, two children, three granddaughters, and three great-grandsons. 

The retiree spent years serving people in need at The Mission of Winter Haven. Those who volunteered with him remember him as a friend to everyone and a true man of God with a gentle spirit.

"He had a 'daddy' spirit," said David Berry, executive pastor of The Mission of Winter Haven. "He was the type where you could just go up and hug him and he'd hug you back. He'd always have a positive word to say."

Though they shared the same last name, David Berry said there was no family relation between the two. He'd still joke, sometimes, and call him "dad."

Ask anyone who knew Berry and they'll tell you a story, whether it was mailing a Bible to someone he met on the other side of the world, or, ensuring, whatever clothing he donated was in mint condition.  

"He likes to give Bibles to people," said Pastor Timothy Williams of Calvary Baptist Church, where Jim and Janet attended. "He came across a lady working with a travel agent in Fiji, and noticed she had a Bible and the pages were very worn. When he came back to the United States, he sent her a Bible."  

"Everything he would bring me, clothes, it had to be all nice and folded, like it came from the cleaners," recalled Lourdes Martinez of The Mission of Winter Haven. "He always said, just because our people were homeless, they were still people, they have to be loved."

Another story, Pastor Berry remembers, is from a day Jim Berry worked on the food distribution line. A woman working next to him needed a little help.

"She was serving next to him one day on the line, they have to wear gloves when they serve food," Pastor Berry recalled. "And, she looked at Jim and said, 'Jim, my nose is running. Can you wipe it?' And he said, 'Yes, I will, sweetheart'."

"He always had a smile, always had a kind word, always had a story about either where he was going or where he was coming from on his bike," Pastor Berry said.

Riding that red Harley Davidson was one of his life's passions.

"That was, I guess, his freedom," said Danielle Petit, who served with Berry. "And, someone took it away. It's very hard and I'm very upset about it, that someone will do that and leave someone on the ground, knowing that he's hurt."

Petit said, "He's going to leave a big big hole in this community and in our hearts. He loved everyone and everyone loved him."

If there's any comfort for those who are hurting, it's knowing how deep his faith was.

"He knew he could share his faith and he was very passionate about that," Pastor Berry said.

"When I think of Jim, I think of a servant with a servant's heart. That's what he was," Pastor Williams said.

There's also comfort in remembering the life lessons he taught them.

"To love life the best you can, to be generous as much as you can, to love people the best you can, to try to be a better person," Petit said. 

"Taking time to appreciate what's around you," said Pastor Berry, "taking time to appreciate the life you've been given, not being afraid to take chances or take a risk."

Troopers continue to follow leads and search for the vehicle involved in the hit and run, a white Dodge Ram pickup truck. If anyone has information regarding the truck, please contact FHP at 239-938-1800 or Crimestoppers.