When Nate and Cora Hilliard see their son Jamal, they also see his twin, Jamel. Then, the memories and grief return.
In 2009, Jamel Hilliard had a wife, two kids and was planning to enlist in the Army. His parents were immensely proud of him for accomplishing so much in such a short span of time, saying the 22-year-old had even more potential to do great things.
Then, on a March night that year, a hit and run driver traveling 55 mph struck Jamel near a bus stop on Billy Graham Parkway. The force propelled Jamel 100 feet, killing him instantly.
Nate Hilliard said that when police came to their front door, Jamal, who is deaf and was at the top of a staircase, sensed what had happened and began screaming. Since then, his mother said, Jamal has become more reclusive, even after counseling sessions.
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Now, whenever they look at Jamal, it brings up memories of Jamel, who was taken too soon by a reckless, avoidable cause.
“It has torn our family apart,” Cora Hilliard said.
The Hilliards said they didn’t immediately have an avenue to share their experiences with other families who endured similar ordeals.
But the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department announced Wednesday a new effort to help such families.
Shardal Rose, who works with victims at department, said that CMPD is adding a traffic death support group, in addition to its homicide group, which began in 2009. Rose said that while the loved ones of homicide victims normally receive support and attention, it is time to shed light on traffic deaths and illuminate the stories of the families and friends that are left behind.
“The sole purpose of this group is to provide support and comfort for those family members,” Rose said. “We want to provide a judgment-free zone where they can come and share their stories and share their experiences.”
The program comes at time where Charlotte is seeing a rise in fatalities involving vehicles. To date, Charlotte has had 36 fatal car crashes in 2017, an increase from the 29 fatal crashes the city had at this point a year ago. CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano said it’s important to humanize the problem and remember that actual people are being affected.
“This program is timely and critical and it speaks volumes to our commitment to victims,” Tufano said.
The group’s first meeting will be June 20 and the following meetings will be on the third Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at CMPD’s headquarters. They are open to the general public. For more information, call 704-366-2811.
Linda Roberts, whose 26-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver in 1999, said she appreciates the support CMPD has given her over the past 18 years. Because of this program, she hopes advocacy and awareness for victims of traffic deaths will rise because the families desperately need it.
“We hear about homicides but we don’t hear about the victims of crashes — and they’re not accidents, they’re crashes,” Roberts said. “They’re preventable and the families need the support. Since that day (her son died), I’ve been on a journey that nobody wants to be on. No parent should have to bury their child.”
Cora Hilliard said meeting other families that share in their tragedy has been uplifting because it showed her that “we don’t have to go through this alone.” Now, she said she hopes people understand the reality of traffic deaths and that victims in this area know they have a place to turn to if they need it.
“We have a platform to educate and to let people know that my son was a person and he had a family,” Cora said. “There was no support group at that time for us, but I believe meeting other people like us has helped us so much. We feel like we have another a family now because we have been through the same thing as them.”
Emmanuel Morgan: 704-358-5337, @_EmmanuelMorgan