Community prayer vigil planned for family of 14-year-old boy struck by car

Seventh-grader Steven Canipe Jr. walked to and from Cramerton Middle School every day, and some drivers passing on busy South New Hope Road noticed he always moved with caution.

But on Friday, less than five minutes from the school, Steven stepped in front of a car and was killed, authorities said.

The death of a 14-year-old described by his principal as “sweet and helpful” and having a “good character” rocked the community.

A father whose daughter is a seventh-grader at Cramerton Middle has organized a prayer vigil on Sunday.

Shannon Williams said the vigil, which will take place by the flagpole at the school, will not only honor Steven and his family but also the family of the driver of the car that struck him. Williams also hopes the event will set the stage for a focus on safety, including the possibility of sidewalks, a crosswalk or an officer directing traffic.

“It’s a multifaceted vigil,” said Williams, pastor of the Finish Line Christian Center in Lowell. “This is something we need to do. We need to let the families know there is hope and there is help.”

His daughter, Briley, was in the same class as Steven.

“She always said he was super nice,” Williams said.

Williams’ church raised money for the Canipe family. Others donated to the online GoFundMe account and raised $10,570 in three days.

Gaston Schools spokesman Todd Hagans said students at Cramerton Middle School have placed flowers in honor of Steven at the school flagpole and that there will be a yearbook page in his memory. Counselors are still available for one-on-one sessions with students or school staff, Hagans said.

N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper J.J. Letcavage said Steven, who lived near the school, was struck at 7:30 a.m. while trying to cross South New Hope Road. Letcavage said the driver, Cheneka Floyd, 35, of Gastonia, had just dropped off her child at Cramerton Middle School and was headed home. There was no evidence of negligence, he said, and she wasn’t charged.

Calling Steven’s death “heartbreaking,” Letcavage said parents of students walking to and from school should re-emphasize basic safety measures such as scanning for traffic.

Johnson with the N.C. Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation said there’s a statewide initiative to address safety concerns at schools.

As program manager for the Safe Routes to School program, he has hired coordinators who use collaborative approaches to solve problems.

The Region 4 coordinator serving 10 counties, including Gaston, is George Berger in Kannapolis.

“He can listen and start to hear some of the issues,” Johnson said. “He can act as a catalyst and start to help with getting people together.”

Among those planning to take part in Sunday’s prayer vigil are Debbie Cloninger Poarch; her daughter, Dawn Harris; and granddaughter, Camryn, an eighth-grader at Cramerton Middle.

Harris takes Camryn to school in the mornings, and Poarch picks her up in the afternoons. Both women remember seeing Steven walking along the road.

“He was there in the rain, sleet or snow,” said Poarch, 57, of Gastonia. “What touched my heart was that he would always stop at a fence and pet two dogs. They knew when it was time and their tails would be wagging. He had compassion for dogs. He had compassion for everybody.”

Poarch observed that Steven “was very careful and always walked a distance off the road. He was not irresponsible.”

She doesn’t know what caused him to run in front of the car on Oct. 25. But she hopes Steven’s death will remind drivers to be aware of their surroundings.

“It’s a lesson to everybody,” said Poarch. “It makes you think about everything. It only takes a second for a tragedy to occur.”

Harris and her daughter attended the memorial service for Steven on Monday.

“Camryn didn’t know him personally, but she saw him every day, and his death really affected her,” said Harris, 37, of Gastonia. “It was a very emotional service. But I came out of it feeling a bit better. He was an amazing boy. People stood up and told stories about him. He was very bright, very Christian. My daughter said to me later, ‘Mom, he’s the kind of person I wish I’d gotten to know better.’ ”

Her daughter also made the comment that “we’re here today and gone tomorrow.”

Steven’s death “brings to light things kids never thought about before,” Harris said. “They thought they were invincible. But now they realize how fragile life is.” Researcher Maria David contributed to this story.