Just a year ago, 63-year-old Anna Pozzi was struggling to work up the energy to fake a holiday spirit for her grandchildren. But the truth, she said, was that she felt nothing but pain over the unsolved hit-and-run death of her daughter just before Christmas one year earlier.
Now, approaching the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, Pozzi is rejuvenated and happy, brought back to life by news that the man police say killed her daughter is behind bars.
“It’s a miracle,” she said of an arrest that many told her would never happen.
Christopher Cook, aka Daniel Heizman, 43, of Kensington, is charged with driving the tow truck that hit Theresa Pozzi on Dec. 23 along a lonely stretch of state road in northeast Philly. Police received an anonymous tip fingering Cook as the man responsible.
Pozzi was in the area to visit a friend in one of the city jails in that region that night. The impact threw her body dozens of feet through the air, killing her. Anna Pozzi feared she'd never get to ask the person who struck her daughter and drove off one question: "Why."
“Not only do you have to answer to God—now, you have to answer to me,” Pozzi said.
Theresa Pozzi’s death cast a shadow over the family. Broken-hearted by his daughter’s death while recovering from surgery himself, Anna Pozzi’s husband passed away just months later, while family members struggled to cope with the void left by their sister’s inexplicable death.
Police had little evidence—just a piece of a headlight and grainy surveillance footage showing a speeding tow truck down the road. Such cases are very hard to solve, said Philly journalist Brian P. Hickey, himself a survivor of an unsolved hit-and-run, who has tracked more than 9,000 such crashes nationwide since January 2010.
What makes the story of the Pozzis even more incredible is how it came to the attention of the city.
During Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia in September 2015, recent Italian transplant to Philly, Simonetta Lein, had just put up the first-ever “Wishwall" in the Italian Market.
Lein is a writer and fashionista who created the Wishwall Foundation, inviting people to share their deepest wishes, which she tries to bring true. That day, she found a wish from a Pozzi sister: “Please find my sister’s killer.”
Within a few months, Lein was negotiating with Councilman Mark Squilla and Clear Channel to get a billboard donated to ask for information in the case.
A billboard right over the location of Pozzi’s death with her picture, asking for tips, was illuminated by the one-year anniversary, advertising the Citizens Crime Commission’s reward. With an extra $5,000 from AAA, the total reward is $15,000 for the tipster if Cook is convicted.
“When I saw her [Anna’s] face, she goes, ‘Did you hear, did you hear?’ She was so excited,” Squilla recalled. “It’s very rare. … It really brings closure to the family.”
The news that a suspect in Pozzi’s death was arrested reached the family on Sept. 29, almost one year to the day after Lein met the Pozzi’s while Pope Francis said Mass in Philly.
“It really seems like a miracle,” Lein said. “Everyone keeps saying, this never happens."
The Pozzi family understands that Cook is just charged, not convicted. Police didn’t respond to requests for comment on the case, which is headed to court with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 19.
But they have a feeling the right guy was caught. And the Theresa Pozzi Way sign on their Bella Vista block has become a sign of happiness for the family, not grief, Anna Pozzi said.
“Every day I saw Theresa Pozzi way, I felt sad, like, ‘Am I going to have flashbacks again?’” she said. “Now, when I see it, I smile. I beam. Because Theresa finally got her way.”