10.06.11

Italy's Hit-and-Run Mystery

Allison Owens's death in Tuscany has police searching for the luxury-car driver who left the young American face-down in a ditch. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

It was a tragic end for Allison Owens, a 23-year-old Ohio native who went missing last weekend in San Giovanni Valdarno in the Tuscan region of Italy.  She had gone jogging around 4 p.m. Sunday and never returned to the apartment she shared with friends. Her body was found face-down on Wednesday, half-submerged in a canal in a ditch off the road. Her iPod buds were still in her ears.

Police at first questioned whether she was the victim of a hit-and-run or if something more sinister happened, citing peculiar markings on her neck and a missing running shoe. But an autopsy conducted Thursday led to a more detailed theory: Based on the discovery of windshield glass shards in her hair, the police coroner ruled her death accidental and her injuries “concurrent with that of a victim of a hit-and-run.”  Owens was wearing her iPod earbuds when she was killed, and investigators say she likely didn’t hear the car behind her.

Police are now combing through speed-trap photos to find the car that hit and killed her. Based on the quality of the windshield glass, they say the car was most likely a luxury car, such as a Mercedes, Volvo, or BMW. If the impact of her body was strong enough to shatter the windshield, the driver  was obviously well aware the accident had taken place. Police are questioning local repair shop owners to see if anyone has replaced glass this week.

Owens was working in Italy over the summer as a tour guide when she went missing. She had only one week left before returning to Texas to finish her college studies. Her friends who set up a Facebook page after she went missing have now turned it into a virtual memorial.  Her aunt, Debbie Gant Parker, contacted The Daily Beast after following our tweets in the Amanda Knox appellate trial, hoping we might help shed light on the then still missing young woman. “I am devastated,” she wrote after Owens’s body was found. “This is a horrible loss to such a wonderful family... she was such a beautiful young lady.”

If the impact of her body was strong enough to shatter the windshield, the driver was obviously well aware the accident had taken place.

Her mother, Cindy Owens, told reporters that she was relieved that her daughter had not been a victim of a violent crime, but rather a highway accident. “The only thing that is getting me through this is the fact that she wasn’t attacked,” Owens said.  “A highway accident can happen to any of us. We are ready to forgive if the driver would just come forward.”