SPENCER Ten-year-old Charles Patrick was riding in an SUV with eight relatives and friends Friday night, heading to a delayed New Year’s Eve party in Spencer when the GMC Envoy careened into a tree on South Rowan Avenue.
His body slammed through the back window. He woke up, alone, in the middle of the street with a busted lip and blood in his hair. He waited for the police, wondering if his family or friends had survived.
Most didn’t. Authorities said five people were killed, including two children. Another child was declared brain-dead, according to family, while one other child was in critical condition and a third was in fair condition.
Among the victims were Charles’ uncle and cousin, 45-year-old Vincent McNeal and Sean Javan Jacobs, 25. Police said they were from Salisbury.
The single-car wreck occurred about 8:10 p.m. Friday near the intersection with 11th Street.
Charles had been sitting next to 6-year-old twins Davion and Javion Williams when the crash occurred. The twins were being treated for broken bones and other injuries Saturday at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, family members said. Their older sister, 8-year-old Taliah Williams, was declared brain-dead, according to family. The Williamses are from Spencer.
Late Saturday, hospital officials said Taliah and Javion Williams were in critical condition, and Davion Williams was in fair condition.
Police are investigating what led to the crash in the small Rowan County town, which sits about an hour north of Charlotte near Salisbury.
Authorities will use an accident reconstruction team to help find answers.
Among other things, police are trying to determine how fast the vehicle was traveling when it wrecked and how many people were wearing seat belts, Spencer police Sgt. Martin Brigman said.
Charles said he and the twins were not wearing seat belts.
‘Thinking about my family’
Spencer resident Angela Monique Dunlap, the 28-year-old driver and mother of Taliah and the twins, also was killed in the wreck. Her 10-year-old daughter, Da’Ja Cathcart, died, as did the daughter of Jacobs’ fiancee, 4-year-old Karizma Nicole Sexton of Salisbury.
Charles stood on the front steps of his family’s Salisbury home Saturday, lip black with stitches and bruises on his temple as he talked about the crash.
His mother and aunt cried and made funeral arrangements on their cellphones; a steady stream of friends and relatives stopped to offer condolences.
“I just keep thinking about my family,” Charles said in a monotone.
In Spencer, friends and family of Dunlap and her daughter gathered to arrange a memorial of stuffed animals, pinwheels and colorful balloons at the crash site. Kentrell Cathcart, Da’Ja Cathcart’s father, wept and smoked a cigar as he tied a purple ribbon around the tree struck by the SUV. Purple was his daughter’s favorite color, he said.
He was working a night shift at Hitachi Metals in China Grove when his fiancee showed up just before 11 p.m. to tell him that his ex-girlfriend and daughter had been in a car crash. When he arrived at Rowan Regional Medical Center, he found his mother and sister waiting for him.
He saw the look on his sister’s face and knew his daughter was dead.
“My heart was in my throat, and I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
Jacobs’ father was also at the crash scene Saturday. As he stared at the twisted metal and bloodied papers left behind on the dirt shoulder of South Rowan Avenue, Phillip Berryman said he could not believe his son was dead.
Jacobs had spent Friday hanging out around the Salisbury house with Berryman, playing with the family pit bulls.
Before Jacobs left for the evening, he took one of his rings off his finger and gave it to Berryman.
“And he said, ‘Daddy, I love you,’ ” Berryman remembered.
Stopping at the memorial
For hours Saturday afternoon, people stopped by the crash scene to take in the newly set-up memorial.
Some drivers slowed their cars as they passed to watch without stopping. Others pulled over to offer condolences or to examine the skid marks along South Rowan. Several more onlookers walked down the wooded ravine next to the road to get a closer look at remnants from the wreck.
One man stood by his truck for nearly 30 minutes, staring at the tree.
He said he was an old friend of Dunlap’s, remembering her as a bright woman who most people knew by the nickname “Mookie.” Catherine Cathcart, grandmother of Da’Ja Cathcart, said Dunlap worked in the dietary department at The Laurels of Salisbury, a nursing home.
“She ruled the kitchen,” Catherine Cathcart said. “She made the best tea.”
As the Cathcart family remembers their lost loved ones, Charles’ family said they are particularly bereft over the death of his young cousin, Karizma.
She was in the car that night because she wanted to be with Jacobs, who was engaged to Karizma’s mother and was a father-figure for the little girl, family members said.
She loved to brush the hair of her baby dolls and had a quiet but friendly demeanor, Dianne Jones said of Karizma.
“When I found out about the crash, it devastated me,” Jones said. She clutched Charles, the only one to survive with minor injuries, to her chest.
“But I thank God. It was a miracle my son made it.”
Staff writer April Bethea contributed.