Deseante Jones took a deep breath as she prepared to speak about the worst night of her life.
About 50 people stood outside the Franklin Street courthouse during a candlelight vigil for Jones’ mother and two others killed in a head-on collision one year ago.
Relatives, anti-drunk driving activists and community members surrounded Jones as she recalled her emotions that night and shared her family’s hopes for the coming weeks.
Darlene McGee, Felecia Harris, and Harris’ granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, were killed when their Subaru was hit by a Jeep Wrangler the Highway Patrol said then-UNC student Chandler Kania, 20, was driving in the wrong direction on Interstate 85 near the I-40 split.
Alex Faison, a relative of the victims, organized the vigil to bring attention to the dangers of drinking and driving.
“They need to know that their good time can affect someone else’s life,” he said.
As people walked by the event, some stopped and others just glanced at a photograph of the mangled Subaru leaning against the podium.
“It’s still fresh,” said Jones. “It’s as if it happened yesterday.”
The three were returning from a family reunion and memorial service for McGee’s mother in Virginia. The urn holding the ashes of McGee’s mother was in the car.
Now, McGee’s ashes rest in an urn kept at Jones’ father’s home.
“I see her every day,” he said. “Spiritually and mentally she’s still here.”
McGee and Harris were childhood friends who “grew up together” and had just moved to Charlotte said Tonya Conard, a cousin.
“It was supposed to be a new beginning,” she said.
Conard, who said she saw McGee and Harris on holidays, remembers the two as “very family oriented” people who “had hopes and dreams.”
Her husband, Harold Conard, remembered watching the news the morning after the crash and seeing images of the accident, not knowing who the victims were. Then, he and his wife got the call.
“I was devastated,” he said.
A similar situation motivated Saundra Dockery, who was at the vigil on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to speak out, she said.
Dockery joined the group shortly after a drunk driver killed her daughter. She said the vigil helped “put a face” with the names of the victims.
“They’re good for the families, but we also want people to know the individuals who were killed had hopes,” she said.
Jones was “overwhelmed” by the support she saw at the vigil, which included prayers and gospel music. She calmly called for justice.
“We need to make efforts to prevent another loss,” Jones said. “If he is not punished, it will set a tone that someone can do something like this and not be punished.”
Kania faces three counts of second-degree murder, as well as civil lawsuits filed by the victims’ relatives. His blood-alcohol level was 0.17 – more than twice the state’s legal limit for someone 21 and older – and he had marijuana in his system, investigators said.
Jones said that although the family is upset with the loss of loved ones, they are “not holding on to anger.”
“I want to have faith in the justice system,” she said. “This will either make me a believer or not a believer.”