NASCAR helped search for driver who hit Melissa

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Maria Lech (right) and her daughter Michelle (left) view an advertisement on the unsolved hit and run case for her daughter Melissa on the No. 87 ExtenZe Toyota Nationwide car driven by Kevin Conway at the Chicagoland Speedway Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, in Joliet. Melissa Lech was killed in 2008 near the intersection of McDonough St. and Infantry Drive. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

NASCAR driver Kevin Conway was in Dayton, Fla., for the annual Daytona 500 when he got an e-mail from Joliet police saying they’d arrested someone in the 2008 hit-and-run death of Melissa Lech.

“To get that e-mail this morning was an awesome way to start the racing season,” Conway said Monday.

David H. McCarthy of Naperville was charged in Lech’s death after he showed up at her sister’s house in Joliet and admitted he had struck her on Aug. 7, 2008.

McCarthy said he had seen reports about Lech’s case in the news, including in September when Conway drove a car featuring her photo and a plea for information about the case in a nationally televised race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.

Conway said his racing team, Nemco Motorsports, started featuring local missing persons cases on the back of his car in 2011 as a way to connect with NASCAR fans and the local communities supporting the races.

“We have so many fans around the country, millions of people watching on TV and thousands in attendance,” he said. “We wanted to use the platform that NASCAR gives us to tie it back into the community.”

Conway, the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Nationwide Rookie of the Year, remembered an emotional meeting with the Lech family in Joliet and said he hoped the arrest would help bring them closure.

“I’ve lost my sister and my father,” he said. “I know what personal grief is like. To know they will be able to work through it from this point forward.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions – I’m glad this worked but still feel for the Lech family and their loss.”

While coverage of the cases featured on his car in other towns has generated leads, this was the first time an arrest was made, he said.

“For us to play a small part in solving one of these cases and to help bring closure – it’s humbling, and it’s a great honor to be affiliated with that and to play a role in that,” Conway said.

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