It was an event marked by tears, sorrow and also hope.
About one hundred family members and friends of two young Maplewood men killed in a drunk driving accident last August gathered on a warm summer Wednesday evening at Memorial Park on the one-year anniversary of the horrific night. They came to remember, to reflect and to offer hope that another such tragedy can be avoided.
Tamir Harry, 16, and Kevin Noel, 21, were killed when then 20-year-old Harrison Allen, who is accused of driving drunk, allegedly ran a stop sign at the corner of Essex Avenue and South Fourth Street in Maplewood and crashed into another car. Harry’s older brother, Tahsir, and Rodney Lovius, also both of Maplewood, were both injured in the accident and have since recovered.
The memorial will eventually include two trees and plaques remembering the young men placed in front of the basketball courts in Memorial Park. The trees, two red maples, will be planted in September, said Mayor Vic DeLuca.
In his remarks, DeLuca noted that the location of the service, in front of the basketball courts where scores of young men were playing, was a reminder of the two young lives lost.
The reverends for both families each addressed the crowd. The Noel family reverend, Rev. Harris, asked the many young people in the crowd to commit to not drinking or doing drugs, and then driving. He cautioned they should not feel they are immune to a similar tragedy, because what happened to Tamir and Kevin “could happen to anyone.”
Rev. Thomas Ellis who heads the Enough Is Enough Coalition anti-violence group and is the Harry family’s reverend, said it was a “special day” because “so many people came out to show support.” He noted that after the accident he helped ensure that the township installed a four-way stop sign at the intersection of the accident.
“That prayer has been answered,” said Rev. Ellis before the service.
Tamir’s aunt, Marla Williams-Linton, invited anyone who wished to speak to do so. An uncle of Tamir and Tahsir told the crowd there was “a different way” and that lives didn’t have to be lost to drunk driving and violence. “We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Lovius struggled with his emotions as he briefly addressed the crowd. Tahsir Harry thanked everyone for coming and supporting his family.
Noel’s sister, Vanessa, spoke movingly of her brother, whom she called “a kind and loving man” who would have told people to not cry for him, but to live for him.
“Kevin’s death rocked me,” said Noel, her voice breaking as her mother came to her side. “Our family was so close.” Noel implored the crowd to not drink and drive, saying that she used to see the consequences of drunk driving just on TV.
Now, “I’m not watching it, I’m living it every day” she said through tears. “So please don’t drink and drive.”
Harry’s mother, Pamela Ferguson, thanked God for “sparing one son and taking another” so he didn’t suffer. She said she prayed for the Allen family as well as the Noel family and her own.
At the ceremony’s end, the crowd released red and white balloons, which fluttered into the summer sky.