Holiday light display dark after deadly hit-and-run

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A popular holiday light show was dark Christmas evening after a man died when he was hit on the road in front of the display Christmas Eve.  

Meanwhile, a Tampa woman faces charges in the crash, charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

Florida State Highway Patrol said the victim, 76-year-old Nicholas Panessidi was trying to cross State Road 39 to see the Christmas light display around 8:30 p.m.. 

FHP said someone in a black Jeep could have been responsible. They found their suspect and arrested 30-year-old Lorena Gonzalez around midnight on Christmas Day. 

Troopers said they used tips to track her Jeep SUV from the crash scene on State Road 39 in Zephyrhills to her home in Tampa.

"This was a disaster waiting to happen,” said Bob Yakseteic, who lives across the street from the display.

Neighbors are concerned that the road is unsafe for the holiday light show.

The display, which has been running for nearly 10 years, drew an especially large amount of people on Christmas Eve, according to neighbors. Many onlookers parked their vehicles along the dark, 60 mile-per-hour highway and walked to the display.

Neighbors said some drivers hit their brakes in the middle of traffic to get a glimpse.

"I heard a loud thump sound and I knew instinctively, that was the sound of somebody being hit," said Yakseteic.

Yakseteic ran into the road to help Panessidi. A nurse on scene tried to give him CPR as his wife stood beside him crying. Panessidi died on the scene.

Gonzalez kept driving, according to troopers.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

"When you have a 60 mile-per-hour speed limit and you have the light show with people stopped on both sides of the road, crossing the road, people getting out of their cars and stuff, it gets scary,” said Tonya Haney, who lives near the display.

She said she’s witnessed crashes due to people trying to make U-turns to see the lights. One driver even crashed through her fence a couple of years ago.

The owners of the light show, Cheryl and Bob Maxon, chose not to turn on the lights Christmas Day, out of respect for Panessidi and his family.

“Our hearts are broken. We didn't sleep last night at all. We won't sleep tonight,” said Cheryl Maxon.

The couple said they have expanded the light and sound show every year for nearly a decade. They’ve also taken steps to make it safer for the community by putting up signs on each side of their home reminding drivers to slow down.

While they love sharing their lights with the community, Maxon said the future of their light show is unclear.

For now, they’re considering keeping the lights off for the rest of the holiday season.

“There's going to be a lot of people who are disappointed.  They’re going to come out and it's going to be dark, but this is what we feel we have to do," said Maxon.

Gonzalez is facing one charge of fleeing the scene of a deadly accident. She’s being held at the Hillsborough County Jail.