Smithfield Herald

Clayton man charged in hit-and-run death of teen near Wendell

N.C. Highway Patrol troopers investigate a hit-and-run accident that killed a 13-year-old boy.
N.C. Highway Patrol troopers investigate a hit-and-run accident that killed a 13-year-old boy. mhankerson@newsobserver.com

A hit-and-run collision Tuesday morning killed 13-year-old Keith Jones outside his home near Wendell, the state Highway Patrol said.

Police have charged Efren Vances, 28, of Clayton with felony hit-and-run, misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and driving without a license, according to the Highway Patrol. Jones was struck about 7 a.m. as he waited on Edgemont Road for his school bus to Wendell Middle School, Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon said.

An initial investigation showed that Jones, described as a young person “with a lot of heart,” was not on the pavement when he was hit. Troopers said they think the driver would have had to veer off the road to strike him.

His mother, D. Marie Jones, found the teenager in a roadside ditch after the crash, according to the Highway Patrol.

Jones’ mother said she went outside about five minutes after her son went to the bus stop. She saw his book bag on the side of the road, then one of his shoes, before discovering her son lying face down.

“After that, I’m on the phone with 911 and I’m pleading and crying,” D. Marie Jones said.

After the child’s death, his parents welcomed family and friends to their home through Tuesday afternoon and evening.

“There’s nothing more,” said his father, Keith W.M. Jones. “We want our son back, but that’s not going to happen. People come in and out of here all day ... but it’s not going to stop the way we feel.”

‘That ups the ante’

After the accident, D. Marie Jones tried to perform CPR, and her son’s school bus driver also tried to help, she said. An emergency responder tried to resuscitate him, she said, but Keith Jones appeared to be dead at the scene.

State troopers, police and sheriff’s deputies searched after the collision for a burgundy Ford Crown Victoria with damage to its front grille and right headlight.

Troopers initially brought a helicopter to the area to search for the vehicle.

“Any time you flee from the scene, that ups the ante,” Gordon said. “And you put on top of that it’s a teen, that aggravates the accident.”

Suspect called Highway Patrol

Vances, the suspected driver, contacted the Highway Patrol as word of the collision spread, Gordon said. Someone had recognized his car – a 1989 Crown Victoria – and got in touch with the man, Gordon said.

After an interview, troopers consulted with the Wake County district attorney’s office and pressed charges against Vances, of 186 Jack Road, Clayton.

It’s not clear whether speed was a factor, but it does not appear that alcohol played a role, Gordon said.

The driver’s explanation “was that he was traveling within his lane, struck something and didn’t know what he struck,” Gordon said. The driver said he thought he hit an animal, Gordon said.

Dava Sanders, the mother of one of Vances’ two children, said Vances never would have intentionally left the scene of a collision.

“Even if we hit an animal, we would pull over and see what he hit,” she said in a phone interview. “He would never intentionally leave a child on the side of the road, to die, basically.”

Vances, known to friends as E.J., is a graduate of Clayton High School who works at a construction business that specializes in panels and glass, Sanders said.

Vances called the Highway Patrol immediately after receiving the call about the collision, Sanders said.

The patrol’s investigation of the boy’s death may last one or two weeks more, Gordon said. Vances was being held Tuesday at the Wake County Detention Center, Gordon said.

Teen “had a lot of heart”

Keith Jones’ parents remember him as a happy child who loved football. He played with several recreational leagues in and around Wendell for the past four years and would have played his first season with the local Pop Warner football team this year.

Although he was usually the smallest on his teams, his mother said he “had a lot of heart” that his coaches and teammates appreciated.

Last season, he won a sportsmanship award in the Wendell recreational league.

“He was a kid that would tackle you and then turn around and help you up,” his mother said.

The Wake County Public School System expressed its condolences via Twitter and said counselors and staff at Wendell Middle worked with students on Tuesday.

“Our deepest sympathies go out today to the friends and families who have lost a classmate at Wendell Middle School,” one of the tweets read. “Staff … met with family this morning. Our prayers are with them.”

Tim Simmons, the school system’s chief communications officer, said Wendell Middle’s principal, Mary Castleberry, also sent out a phone message to the school’s families.

Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report.

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