Chatham-Kent police reopen 1986 hit-and-run cold case

·3 min read
Kathy, Joan and Charlie Gammage as young children. Charlie was fatally hit by a car on May 14, 1986 at the age of 36. (Submitted by Joan Cofell - image credit)
Kathy, Joan and Charlie Gammage as young children. Charlie was fatally hit by a car on May 14, 1986 at the age of 36. (Submitted by Joan Cofell - image credit)

Chatham-Kent police are reopening a 35-year-old cold case of a fatal hit-and-run and are appealing to the public for help. The victim's family is hoping someone will come forward with information.

On May 24, 1986 around 2 a.m., Charlie Gammage, 36, was walking west of Ridgetown on Ridge Line, just east of Scane Road, when he was struck and killed by a passing motorist. The driver fled the scene and was never charged.

"You never stop thinking about it, and you think, you wish things were different," said Joan Cofell, a sister of Charlie Gammage. Cofell is the driving force behind the Chatham-Kent Police appeal for information.

"All we want as a family is to put this matter to rest, to have closure. And to give Charlie peace," she said.

Charlie Gammage (front row, second from the left) sits with his family at a reunion in Fergus, Ont.
Charlie Gammage (front row, second from the left) sits with his family at a reunion in Fergus, Ont.(Submitted by Joan Cofell)

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Gammage's death. Over the last few decades, Cofell says police have investigated the case a number of times, yet no charges have been laid.

Cofell hopes this appeal for information will help identify the driver responsible, and if there were any passengers in the vehicle at the time of the hit and run.

"If they come forward now, we don't want any sort of charges," said Cofell. "And more importantly, to give these fellows a chance at finally clearing their conscience and having a decent life for the remaining years."

'He was the support'

Cofell describes her brother as generous and having a memorable laugh.

"Charlie was always called 'chuckles' for a reason," said Cofell.

In 1986, Charlie had been living at home with their parents on the 7th Concession.

"My mom raised seven kids in the country without a driver's licence. When dad was at work, Charlie used to take mom for groceries and appointments and all that sort of thing. He was her lifeline," said Cofell.

The day of the hit and run, she remembers being woken up by her husband.

"The morning they called me [it] was 6:30 in the morning and my husband answered the phone and he came back to bed and said 'Charlie's been in an accident,'" said Cofell.

"I said, 'is he okay? Did he have any broken bones?' And he said, 'no, he's dead.'"

OPP, Chatham-Kent police investigations

OPP initially responded to the collision, as it occurred in their jurisdiction, but the Chatham-Kent Police Service has since taken over the investigation.

In a statement, Det. Sgt. Gabe Tetrault of the Major Crime Unit said, "As we approach the 35th anniversary of the collision, we are appealing to the public for any information that may help us identify the person responsible for this collision."

"We have interviewed several people over the years and believe that there are people who have intimate knowledge of the collision and the information we need to solve this crime. If you can help us bring closure to this family, please call us," said Tetrault.

If you would like to hear more, here is an interview with Joan Cofell on Windsor Morning:

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