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Memorials for Elroy McConnell and his three sons remain at St. Petersburg corner

At the corner of 22nd Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg is a roadside memorial near a 7-Eleven sign. It’s been there since the August car crash and deaths of four men: Elroy McConnell and his three adult sons.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

At the corner of 22nd Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg is a roadside memorial near a 7-Eleven sign. It’s been there since the August car crash and deaths of four men: Elroy McConnell and his three adult sons.

The red tinsel Valentine heart and pretty flowers are a reminder of the horror. Not that those who see it daily ever really forgot.

It's been almost 10 months since an Orlando father and his three adult sons were killed at 22nd Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg.

A man police described as a drunken driver remains behind bars awaiting trial.

But at the busy corner where all these lives ended at once, a colorful memorial lives on.

Someone, perhaps several people, have placed candles, rosary beads, stuffed animals and plants near a 7-Eleven sign. A gas station clerk said he thought it was the grieving family visiting from Orlando every Sunday. Someone else suspected it was local residents.

How many more months, years, decades will it go on?

• • •

Cars whiz by. Bicyclists ride up to buy six-packs at the store. Well-dressed families shuffle in and out of a funeral home across the street. Drivers absentmindedly pump gas.

No one questions the display of fake flowers sprouting from cinder blocks or the State Farm teddy bears wrapped in plastic, which sit untouched day after day.

"It's been there so long, I barely notice it anymore," said 39-year-old Frieda Jackson, pumping gas across the street at a Shell gas station on her way to work.

But many people do notice, even if just for a glancing second while waiting at a red light.

"You can't ride by and not feel something," said Jack West, 57, who lives with his sister nearby and recently stopped at the 7-Eleven. "I remember seeing the picture of the family on TV. You couldn't pick a worse scenario."

Every fatal car accident is tragic. But this one hit the community hard.

It took the lives of Elroy McConnell Jr., 51; Elroy "Roy" McConnell III, 28; Nathan McConnell, 24; and Kelly McConnell, 19.

They died when 20-year-old Demetrius Jordan, speeding and intoxicated, ran a red light and crashed into them, St. Petersburg police said.

Some who lived nearby reported hearing the crash on Aug. 1 at 12:45 a.m.

The deeply religious father, a financial consultant, and his three sons were heading back from the movies to three wives and a girlfriend at a Redington Beach rental. The women would give a news conference in Orlando days later, sobbing as they talked of the men as sweet fathers, hard workers and devoted Christians.

The corner where the crash happened was showered with flowers and gifts, and police tape blocked off the area for several weeks. Eventually, the tape was gone and the 7-Eleven sign was repaired.

The gifts remained.

"Those are probably strangers leaving those things," said Jane Thompson, a receptionist at the Anderson-McQueen Funeral and Cremation Center across the street. "Everyone can relate."

• • •

Calls to Amy McConnell, the wife of Elroy McConnell Jr., were not returned, nor were calls to the sons' mother, Lisa Raybern. The DUI-manslaughter case against Jordan is still making its way through court proceedings.

A pretrial hearing Friday was delayed, and a defense attorney says he is pursuing a plea deal. Some grieving members of the McConnell family were in the courtroom Friday but declined comment.

The case has not made headlines since last August, but people haven't forgotten. This past October, Carrie Dehlin of St. Petersburg left this message on an online guest book memorializing the McConnells:

"Please remember that this accident has affected not just you, but complete strangers. The memory of these men will be remembered by all the residents of Tampa Bay. … We will never forget this happened."

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Memorials for Elroy McConnell and his three sons remain at St. Petersburg corner 05/29/11 [Last modified: Sunday, May 29, 2011 8:41pm]
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