It was just minutes before dark Monday night in the 3500 block of Old Oxford Road. The streetlights had just flickered on but were still dim.
There is no streetlight above the spot where 4-year-old Jeri Dee Quick ran gleefully toward the road to welcome her father and uncle back from the store. The two men had pulled into a church parking lot directly across the street.
Following Jeri was a 14-year-old who lived in the home Jeri was visiting, and three of the teenager’s siblings, all under the age of 5. Jeri got ahead of the group, though, eager to tell her dad and uncle all about her first day of preschool.
“Her dad and I both screamed ‘Stop!’” Jeri’s uncle, Kenneth Ray, said. “She did. But after one car passed, she started moving again. I just could not get the words ‘Go back!’ out of my mouth fast enough. Then it was too late.”
As Jeri crossed the yellow lines, a car hit her. Police have indicated the driver was not at fault. The car reportedly was not speeding.
“Jeri sort of grabbed onto the front of the car and got carried along,” Ray said. “But when the driver hit the brakes, she went flying off.”
And when Kenneth Ray got to her, he picked her up, crying out her name.
“She smiled for a second,” Ray said. “Just a little smile. Then I could see it in her eyes. She left us.”
About 20 feet away was Jeri’s horrified father. Across the road, the 14-year-old with the three toddlers, Kenneth Ray’s oldest daughter, had reached out and grabbed the children before they, too, ran into the road, following Jeri.
“I did what I could,” Mahogany Ray said softly. “I just had to keep the other babies from getting hit. I’ve been pretty numb ever since.”
At the spot where Jeri’s body landed, on the edge of the roadway, now stands a memorial with flowers and balloons. One of the balloons says “Princess.” Two small cinder blocks hold things down as the wind from each passing car blows the balloons around.
The makeshift tribute is but a foot or two away from the steady stream of vehicles. Many cars appear to be exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit.
Tierra Hall, a close family friend, put up the memorial.
“I had to,” she said. “Jeri was so sweet and alive. And you know what? The memorial gets people to slow down. Something needs to.”
As Hall was talking, a car’s brakes screeched. She turned and saw a yellow dog get half pulled under a vehicle’s front grill. The panicked dog scrunched down, rolled over and managed to get away, apparently unhurt.
Hall was so shook up she ended the interview and went inside a nearby home.
A candlelight vigil is planned for 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the same small, gravel church parking lot where Jeri’s father had stopped to pick up Jeri, her sister and her mother to take them home to Roxboro on Monday night.
“We felt the community needed it,” Kenneth Ray said. “I’ve never seen so much love pouring at us from strangers all over. It’s incredible. We want to thank all of these people who have showed how much they care.”
Family members and friends have begun gathering petitions from neighborhood residents, with the hope of bringing them to City Hall.
They want at least one more streetlight placed in between the two on either end of where Jeri was struck. They also want speed bumps along that stretch of Old Oxford Road.
“Seriously, you’ve seen how the cars are doing here,” Hall said. “It’s crazy out here. You take your life into your hands when you come near the road, let alone if you try to cross. These are little kids that live here.”
One family with young children won’t be here much longer. Kenneth Hall, Ashanti Ward and Jeri’s cousins plan to move as soon as they can afford to.
“It’s not safe,” Ward said. “My kids barely made it. Jeri’s gone. We’ve got to leave.”
Kenneth Hall said drivers need to pay attention to where they are and slow down.
“Go slower than you need to,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of folks would drive through their neighborhoods this fast, with houses 20 or 30 yards from the street. They shouldn’t do that here, either.”
Hall also had a message of solace for the driver whose vehicle hit Jeri when the preschooler rushed in front of her. “I send her comfort, too,” Hall said. “We haven’t had a chance to say that we pray for her, too. She didn’t do anything wrong, but we know she must be hurting.”