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9 Years Later, Hit-and-Run Victim's Family Recalls Pain of Not Knowing

Vernon Lester's family says they hope the driver who struck and killed a pedestrian last week in Amagansett is caught.

On Nov. 1, nine years ago, Vernon Lester was found dead on the side of Montauk Highway in Wainscott, the victim of a hit-and-run driver.

An eerily familiar scene took place across town last week, when a 61-year-old pedestrian was struck and the driver never stopped. He was found bleeding on the ground along the highway in Amagansett on Oct. 23. John Judge was pronounced dead at the hospital.  

The driver who struck and killed Lester, 56, was never caught, East Hampton Town Police Detective Lt. Chris Anderson confirmed last week.

Lester's family hopes Judge's family and loved ones never have to live as long as they have without answers.

However, one week later after the Amagansett accident, the driver responsible still hadn't come forward, Anderson said on Tuesday.

"Whoever done it must have no conscience at all, no feelings for anyone. There's no closure without knowing who did it and why they didn't stop," his baby sister Jeannette F. Greene said in a statement her daughter Amy Dunn gave in a phone interview with East Hampton Patch. 

"I think about it all the time," said Esther M. Sivertsen, another sister of Lester's, in a statement.

"There is no closure until we find out who did it," she said. "How do you live with yourself knowing what you did?" she said. 

News about Judge's death reached them in North Carolina, where they now live. 

Both accidents happened the same time of year, and those familiar with both cases recall how those who called 911 first thought the bodies were some kind of Halloween decoration.

According to reports in The East Hampton Star following the 2003 accident, a passing motorist spotted Lester's body in brush on the south side of the highway, across from the Meisel Real Estate office, the morning after Halloween. The police were called at 10:22 a.m., though they believe he was killed sometime after 4 a.m.

Lester, a free spirit, not someone to stay in anyone place too long, his niece said, was staying at the Cozy Cabins on Montauk Highway in Wainscott and often walked up-and-down the busy stretch of road.

Pat Fredette, his companion of 20 years, told The Star that he left their cabin around 5 that morning to pick up coffee at Hess, about a half-mile away, returned, but went back out again. Dunn thought he never returned with the coffee — she actually was working at Hess back then, but doesn't remember if she was working that morning. Fredette died a few years later, Dunn said.

In the Nov. 27 edition of The Star, it was reported that Suffolk County Crime Lab tests narrowed the search for the vehicle involved to a dark-green metallic Chrysler Dodge or Plymouth, a 1994 model or later. Police said it would have front end, windshield or antenna damage — an antenna was found at the scene.

Police followed leads throughout Suffolk County and checked auto body and repair shops, but no arrest was ever made. 

The case received far less attention than the hit-and-run that killed a potato picker on Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton one year earlier in November 2002. The driver was ultimately caught; Leslie Jenneman was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after a trial in 2004.

"It changed my outlook on the way people treat others," Dunn said of her uncle's death. She always figured the driver was coming from the club in Wainscott, most likely drunk.

"Death is shocking to begin with when it's something you don't expect, but not knowing is worse," Dunn said. "Nine years later, we're still dealing with it." 

In Judge's case, police said they are looking for dark blue metallic vehicle that likely has a front-passenger headlight out.

Tony Lupo, an owner of Astro Pizza in Amagansett, and his family, issued an appeal for the driver to "do the right thing." Lupo knew Judge for 42 years — he was the reason Judge moved to Amagansett over a decade ago and became part of his family.

A reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest is available. . Touched by the love Judge's friends in Amagansett shared for him, businessman Larry Siedleck posted the rest of the reward.

Lester's brother Henry D. Lester, of Springs, said he feels sorry for the drivers in a sense. "I feel sorry for the person for not coming forward, for being scared or whatever, but after a while you should step forward if you have a conscience," he told Patch in the statement. "There's closure knowing where he is, with his parents — Don't really want to know who did it for personal reasons. They will get their dues when their time comes."

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