Man struck, killed on I-75 was Columbia High teacher

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 1:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 7:36 p.m.

A 27-year-old Columbia County High School teacher who was reported missing by school officials when he didn't show up for work Monday was identified Tuesday as a man who was struck and killed early Sunday morning when he ran into the path of a tractor-trailer on Interstate 75, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

Benjamin Gilliland of Alachua was a graduate of the University of Florida and was coming to the end of his first year as a language arts teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City. On Monday someone from the school called the Alachua Police Department to ask for a well-being check on Gilliland, according to Detective Jessie Sandusky of APD. The person said Gilliland had failed to show up for work and had not contacted anyone regarding his absence and that it was unlike him.

Two Alachua police officers went to Gilliland's residence at One51Place Apartments to find his car parked outside, but no answer at the door. A manager eventually allowed the officers inside, but Gilliland was not there. Family members of the missing man also showed up at the apartment and said they had not heard from him since Saturday night.

Little more than 24 hours prior, Jerold Pierce, 60, of Farmersville, Ohio, was driving his 2009 Peterbuilt semi north in the outside lane of I-75 at 12:27 a.m. Sunday when a man without identification ran into the path of the truck, according to the FHP report.

The accident occurred in Alachua County at the 397 mile marker, less than one mile from Gilliland's apartment. It wasn't until Tuesday morning that the man was identified as Benjamin Gilliland. He had turned 27 on Friday.

Patrick Gallagher is a teacher at Buchholz High School in Gainesville and served as a mentor to Gilliland, who interned in Gallagher's classroom the previous school year. Gallagher learned of Gilliland's passing from a Facebook post on Tuesday.

"He was fantastic, he was very studious and he was always on top of things," Gallagher said of Gilliland. "He would call or text if he was running 5 minutes late."

Gallagher went on to say his former intern had a deep love for literature that he worked diligently to impart to students.

FHP's traffic-homicide unit is conducting the investigation into Gilliland's death.

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