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Three years after four men killed in DUI crash, cousin tries to make a difference

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman in a silver Honda Civic pulled into the 7-Eleven and opened her door. In high heels and a dress, she got out and walked along the sidewalk toward a cluster of fake flowers and four miniature concrete hearts spread across the grass near the intersection.

There, at the southwest corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 22nd Avenue, the woman in the dress, who declined to give her name, embraced another woman, a stranger, and whispered in her ear.

"Every day I drive by," she said, "and I think about them." The stranger hugged her back with one arm. In the other, she held two white signs with bold black letters: "DRIVE SOBER" and "DUI KILLS."

Under an oak nearby, another sign lay atop the grass: "4 MEN GONE 4-EVER."

Ginger Brengle, a librarian at Pinellas Park High School, has fiery red hair and swears she's 5 feet tall. She has become an expected sight in this neighborhood on the same day for the past three years.

At 12:45 a.m. on Aug. 1, 2010, Demetrius Jordan, drunk and high, drove south toward this intersection at 92 mph, nearly three times the speed limit. His Chevrolet Impala blew a red light and reached the junction's center at the same moment as a Ford Fusion carrying Elroy McConnell and his three adult sons. McCon­nell never jerked the wheel. He never sped up. He never jammed the brakes.

The impact crushed and killed McConnell, 51, and his three sons — Elroy III, 28; Nathan, 24; and Kelly, 19.

Jordan was sentenced to 44 years in prison.

Brengle is from St. Petersburg, but the rest of the family lives in Orlando or out of state. Her cousin, Amy Voelker, was Elroy McConnell's wife.

Holding her signs up to passing honks and nods Thursday afternoon, Brengle glanced at a pair of scars that line the asphalt nearby. She notices them every year.

Brengle shook her head. She's convinced they're remnants of the violent collision.

"I get out here," she said, "and I do what I can."

What Brengle can do, she hopes, is plant a seed in the mind of a passer-by who will one day soon have too many drinks and be faced with the choice to drive drunk.

"If I can convince just a couple people this weekend to get a designated driver or call a cab," she said, "I'll feel like I've accomplished something."

But the crash compelled Brengle beyond just the annual demonstrations.

She shares the family's story with students at area high schools. She shows pictures of the men when they were children and teenagers and on Redington Beach playing football hours before they died. She recalls McConnell's Facebook post from that day — an announcement that their vacation was the best idea he'd had in years.

Then, she reveals an image of the Ford, its roof collapsed and insides gutted, and tells the kids that none of the men survived.

Sometimes, she even brings the car to her presentations. At one in June, a student found McConnell's reading glasses under the seat.

Brengle, sobbing, walked away.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Three years after four men killed in DUI crash, cousin tries to make a difference 08/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 2, 2013 12:29am]
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