By BRAD DICKERSON
The shooting death of Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nicholas Sottile on Jan. 12, 2007, "still doesn't seem real" to his brother, Jimmy.
The former law enforcement officer and current Sebring bail bondsman was at home when he started hearing the sirens. His first reaction was to get on his Nextel and check to see that his children were OK.
Then, a member of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office came by to see how "Nicky" was.
"I go, 'I don't know. What are you talking about?'" Sottile said. "He goes, 'Man, he's been shot.'
"And then everything went into slow motion."
Sgt. Sottile's wife, Elizabeth, said she and the couple's two children - a college-student daughter and a son working as a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff's Department - will take time to mark Monday's anniversary.
"It's still unbelievable," Elizabeth said.
A 24-year veteran of the FHP, Sgt. Sottile was performing a traffic stop at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Whitmore Road in Highlands County when one of the occupants shot him in the chest with a .25 caliber handgun.
Authorities say the shooter was driver Joshua Lee Altersberger, 21, of Sebring. After the shooting, a passenger, Quintin Jerome Kinder, of Bainbridge, Ga., fled into a nearby orange grove.
Sgt. Sottile, 48, was able to notify dispatchers that he had been shot, according to information from the FHP. He was transported to Florida Hospital Lake Placid and pronounced dead an hour later.
Altersberger was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm after previously being convicted of a juvenile offense. Kinder, who surrendered to authorities on Jan. 13, was charged with trespassing in a cultivated grove. He was then taken back to Georgia to face a violation of probation charge.
Prosecutors have previously filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty for Altersberger, whose case is scheduled to go to trial starting March 16 with jury selection.
It is set for a status jury trial on March 6, according to information from the Highlands County Clerk of Courts Web site.
"We recently sent the defense a short little letter saying we would not consider anything but death," Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin previously said.
Opening An Old Wound
Jimmy Sottile will be there for the trial of the person accused of killing his brother, although it will be, "hard to sit there."
"It's been two years come Monday, and we've got to start all over again come March," he said. "My father's going to have to listen to my brother screaming for help. I don't even know if I can sit there and hear him screaming for help."
Elizabeth said she has attended all the previous court proceedings, such as all pretrial conferences. The trial will be no different.
"I will not miss a day," she said. "I will not miss a minute."
Following her husband's death, a scholarship program was established that was open to any age group. The two winners are going to be announced later this week.
It is just one way the family is working to keep alive the memory of Sgt. Sottile. Sometimes, though, all it takes is a journey out in public to remember a lost loved one.
"If you're in Wal-Mart or something and you see a side profile of somebody, and it takes your breath away because you think it's him," Jimmy said.
The tragedy both he and the rest of his family has been through - not to mention the shock and disbelief that lingers two years later - is something Jimmy would not wish on anyone.
"I pray to God that no one has to go through what me and my family's went through," he said. "That feeling is indescribable."