CINCO BAYOU — The Florida Highway Patrol has identified the man in a wheelchair who was killed Saturday night’s hit-and-run crash on Eglin Parkway.
Richard Wild, 64, was struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe at 7:53 p.m. as he was trying to cross Eglin near Irwin Avenue in Cinco Bayou. The driver of the Tahoe fled the scene of the crash.
Wild’s sister, Jean Taylor, who lives in Walton, New York, said she found out about her brother’s death Tuesday.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I didn’t know how to feel. It wasn’t until this morning when I broke down in tears. We were the last of the Wild family.”
Richie, as his sister called him — was a “pack rat” who had old, used cellphones, Taylor said. A friend of his had to go through several phones to find Taylor’s number and call her with the tragic news.
“He used those prepaid cellphones,” she said. “His friend finally bought him a Verizon phone and put Richie on his plan so we could get a hold of him.”
Wild was born in New York City on July 16, 1954. Taylor was the oldest of the three Wild kids. Although she hadn’t seen Wild in about 15 years, they talked on the phone nearly every day, sometimes two to three times a day.
“We were supposed to come down (to Florida) to visit last summer,” Taylor said. “We’re getting up there in age … “
Taylor remembers her younger brother affectionately as a clown.
“He could make my blue day into a sunshine day,” she said. “He could make anybody laugh. I’d just look at him and I’d be in stitches.”
Wild found his way to Florida about 13 years ago. His sister said he enjoyed going out on fishing boats.
He went back and forth between Clearwater and Northwest Florida before settling in Fort Walton Beach. He had a problem leg from getting hit by a car about a decade ago in Clearwater. He was mostly mobile by way of a wheelchair.
Wild was homeless for some time, but at the time of his death he had an apartment through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He got by on his Social Security and Supplemental Security Income checks. Even with so little, Wild was generous.
“He took in other people when he got an apartment,” Taylor said. “He was a nice man. He cared about people. If anybody needed anything, all they had to do was ask.”
Elizabeth Harkins had known Wild for the past three years she has worked at Papa John’s pizza on Eglin Parkway. Wild would stop by regularly to visit, and occasionally would leave with some free food.
“He was just the sweetest man and such a gentleman,” Harkins said. “He always made me feel like a lady. He’d reach out and kiss my hand. He liked getting out and he liked being around people.
“He really was a sweetheart.”
Authorities are still searching for the driver of the Tahoe. Anyone with information is asked to call 850-484-5000 or Crime Stoppers at 850-863-TIPS.