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Drunken driver who killed four awaits his sentence

ST. PETERSBURG — His memories of that day are disjointed, broken apart by hours of darkness. They replay in his mind like an old movie missing its most important strips of film.

For more than 700 days, Demetrius Jordan has struggled to fill the voids. But he does not deny what he cannot remember.

It was late summer 2010. Jordan was 20 and drunk and speeding. His 2001 Chevrolet Impala approached a red light on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg. He didn't stop.

At that moment, an Orlando accountant and his three adult sons were heading back to their vacation rental in Redington Beach after a movie. Jordan slammed into their Ford Fusion at 83 mph.

The impact crushed and killed all four McConnell men. Elroy, 51. Elroy III, 28. Nathan, 24. Kelly, 19.

Jordan survived.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to four counts of DUI manslaughter. A judge will sentence him on Friday, possibly to life in prison.

Members of the McConnell family are expected to address the court. From them, Jordan will hear that the four men he killed loved God, adored their families and cared for people they barely knew. That they left behind three widows and two young children. That the world is worse off without them.

Over the last two weeks, in interviews with the Tampa Bay Times, Jordan spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest.

The weight of the McConnells' loss is beyond measure. But also among the wreckage is the one who caused it, a young man whose path, until that night, was marked with promise.

Jordan had never been arrested. He was a devoted son and brother. He mentored younger classmates and helped strangers in need.

Jordan, his teachers thought, would be the kid who made it.

He is quiet now, almost shy. His words are soft, his sentences short. He likes people and wants people to like him back. He thinks a lot about being hated.

Sitting on a plastic chair in a white concrete block room, he met with a reporter through a telephone and a TV screen. He talked about his past and his future; what he might say to the McConnells and what he hopes they say back; whether he'll ever get out of prison.

And, most often, he talked about not remembering the moment that ruined his life and so many others'.

"I try to think. I try to close my eyes and picture what happened," he says. "Nothing."

• • •

The heat sweltered over St. Petersburg on the last day of July 2010. Jordan woke up around 11 a.m. He was living with his grandfather, who had lost his wife to a heart attack six months earlier. Jordan moved in to keep him company.

That afternoon, Jordan hung out with his cousin, Mario Robinson. They played basketball on the Wii for a few hours before Jordan left to see a girl.

He doesn't remember visiting his mom that day, but he did.

Jordan stopped by to pick up clothes. He changed into jeans, a T-shirt and white Nike Air Force 1 shoes. They hugged and, before he left, she told him what she always told him: "Be careful."

He returned to his cousin's house that evening. Robinson wanted to meet with a girl in Clearwater, and she had a friend, so Jordan went along. He drove.

The four sat together and talked on the hood of his Impala.

Jordan drank cranberry lemonade Four Loko and New Amsterdam gin mixed together in a red Solo cup.

One of the girls wanted chips, so he drove her to a gas station down the road. When they returned, sometime around midnight, it was time to go home.

The cousins got back into the car. Jordan remembers starting the engine.

He didn't feel drunk.

Jordan cannot explain what happened next. When he looks back at this moment, and the ones that followed, all he sees is darkness.

• • •

Jordan wears his hair in long dreadlocks. He hasn't cut it since middle school, but he will have to shave it when he goes to prison. At 5-feet-8 and 220 pounds, his thick shoulders have consumed his neck. A thin goatee runs around the edge of his mouth, and tattoos sleeve both forearms.

His dad's name, Homer, is written on his right wrist; his mom's, Alice, is on his left. Jordan's love for and from his parents, especially his mother, has carried him through the last two years.

"That's my heart right there," he says of her. "That's my everything."

Until he was about 3, Jordan and his mother lived alone in a one-bedroom duplex. A closet was his playroom, and she was his playmate. She worked nights at the photo lab of an Eckerd pharmacy so she could spend the days with her baby.

His mother and father eventually bought a house together and had two more children. Jordan became the third parent. He microwaved TV dinners and guided walks to the school bus. He enforced the house rules.

"My sisters always say he's the best child I have," Alice Jordan says. "I never pictured my child in prison. Never. But things happen."

In school, he made A's and B's.

He became a peer mediator at Riviera Middle School. Reading instructor Annessa Mortensen still remembers other teachers interrupting her class to ask Jordan for help breaking up fights.

"He just had this way about him," Mortensen says. "Very soft spoken. Very kind. Wise beyond his years."

Jordan got involved in Everyone's Youth United, a now-closed nonprofit based in Childs Park.

He volunteered each Christmas to help with the group's dinner for the needy. He played drums, his passion, in the organization's marching band.

"Demetrius was one of those we never worried about," says group founder Eric Green. "It was never a matter of if he would make it. It was, what is he going to do?"

After he graduated from St. Petersburg High, he started community college classes to become a mortician. He wanted to own a funeral home one day. People told him he was a compassionate and patient listener.

He thought he would be good at helping people deal with death.

• • •

Jordan remembers opening his eyes and seeing a man who looked like a firefighter outside his car window. The man told Jordan he had been in a wreck. The teeth of an electric saw tore into the passenger door. He didn't see the other car. The smell of smoke and gasoline and blood coated the air, but he only remembers the scent of his baby powder air freshener.

The man asked if he had been drinking. Yes, Jordan acknowledged, and there was marijuana in the car.

Then he noticed Robinson slumped across the passenger seat, moaning in pain.

"Get my cousin," he told the man. "Don't worry about me. Get my cousin."

The man told him his leg was broken, but Jordan couldn't feel it. He couldn't feel anything.

This, he assumed, was a dream.

Darkness.

• • •

Jordan's home for most of the last two years has been a slim bottom bunk in a cell with five other inmates.

Each morning he lays in bed and prays, for himself and his family.

He asks God to watch over the McConnells and help them with their problems.

"I know they probably hate me right now," he says, "and I completely understand."

Jordan wants them to know he is a good person and that he's sorry and that what happened was an accident. He isn't sure if he will speak at his sentencing.

He thinks about what the McConnells will say to him.

"I want to hear that they forgive me," he says. "It means the world to me."

Jordan knows he is going to prison. He can't predict for how long. He doesn't want to. He's not sure what he deserves.

He looked up other cases in which drunken drivers killed people. Some were sentenced to 15 years. The judge, he hopes, will give him a similar term.

But Jordan acknowledges his hopes are only hopes. And not likely. In none of those other cases did four people die.

The sentencing guidelines call for a minimum of 44 years in prison. A life sentence is possible, if not probable.

Jordan is at peace with never again knowing freedom.

"I know people have died," he says. "I know I should be responsible for it."

• • •

Jordan woke up in a hospital bed, his right hand cuffed to the metal frame. He didn't understand why. Consciousness came and went. He was on pain medication and unsure of where he was.

Sometime after the sun came up, two officers came to see him.

He ran a red light, they said. He killed a man and his three sons.

Jordan didn't want to believe them. He sobbed. He vomited. He tried to rip the handcuffs off the bed.

He would be lucky, they told him, if he received life in prison.

Darkness.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8472. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnWoodrowCox.

Drunken driver who killed four awaits his sentence 07/22/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 27, 2012 12:19pm]
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