Woman's body found in ditch day after hit-and-run in Lakeland

A 44-year-old mother was hit and killed while walking on the side of the road in Polk County Friday night. Investigators say the driver who hit her never stopped to help. 

The crash happened on Reynolds Road near Barrington Avenue. By Monday afternoon, the Polk County Sheriff's Office announced they'd located a possible vehicle involved.

The news is bittersweet news as the family of Nichole Williams travels from across the country to pick up the pieces.

A vivacious, vibrant, and kind soul - those are just a few words being used to remember Williams.

"A golden heart," said her cousin, Jamie Daiker, "would do anything for anybody, didn't care if she knew you or she didn't."

Williams was a cosmetologist. "Loved doing hair. Loved making people happy," Daiker said.

And she loved her two daughters and grandson. "Those are her world," Daiker said. "Her world."

Nichole Williams was killed in a hit-and-run in Lakeland

Friday night, many worlds changed in an instant. Williams walked from her home to Reynolds Food Mart on Reynolds Road in Lakeland. Investigators say she was wearing dark clothing. On her way back, after 9:00 p.m., she was hit from behind by an older model SUV or pickup truck, north of Barrington Avenue.

The sheriff's office says the driver never stopped. The next morning, her body was found in a ditch.

"It cost a life and that hurts like heck," Daiker said. "But it's costing more than just her life, too. It's cost everybody else their lives including the person who hit her and that's devastating for both sides."

Life hadn't always been easy. Williams' brother and father died a couple of years ago. She recently moved from her home state of Iowa to Florida for a fresh start and to be with her high school sweetheart.

"After all those losses in our family, she was finally happy. She had that smile back," Daiker said. "That's why this is especially hard, because she had been through so much and we really hoped she could finally have that happy life."

As they press for answers, Nichole's family is trying to take to heart the lessons she taught them.

"Always stay resilient like she did and no matter what, keep a smile on your face because things are going to get better," Daiker said.

Williams' mother just flew her youngest daughter home from Florida Monday. Meanwhile, friends and family are coming together to help pay for a funeral and to support the kids.

The sheriff's office says the owner of the vehicle possibly involved is cooperating, as the investigation continues.