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St. Petersburg police: Driver said he drank, smoked pot before crash that killed four

ORLANDO — The new father scurried door-to-door in his family's neighborhood, a baby in his arms.

Elroy McConnell III had a brand new son. Elroy the IV. Four months old.

"He was so excited," said his neighbor, Andrea Geoffrey.

After everyone met the baby, the entire McConnell family — three sons, father, mother, wives and kids — headed to Redington Beach for a big vacation. There, they would celebrate the birthday of the youngest son, Kelly McConnell.

Saturday night, the guys caught a late movie. On the way back early Sunday morning, a St. Petersburg man driving drunk and high slammed into their car at 80 miles an hour, police say.

Elroy McConnell, 51, died instantly. So did his three sons: Elroy McConnell III, 28, Nathan McConnell, 24, and Kelly McConnell, 19.

Demetrius Jordan told officers he had mixed alcoholic drinks with cans of Four Loko, an energy and malt liquor blend. He also told officers he had smoked pot that night, according to an arrest report.

Jordan, 20, had "bloodshot" and "watery" eyes, the report said, and a "dazed" and "blank" expression. He "stumbled" and "slurred" his words, the report said.

Police estimated he drove more than twice the posted 35 mph speed limit when his Chevrolet Impala raced south down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and crossed 22nd Avenue N at the worst possible moment.

Jordan's car plowed into the right passenger side of the McConnell family's Ford Fusion, pushing it into the metal support beam of a 7-Eleven sign.

A can of Four Loko sat behind Jordan's seat after the crash, the report said.

• • •

Monday, the women drove back to Orlando as widows.

The brothers' 92-year-old great-grandmother, who lives across the street, sat in her garage and took flowers. Neighbors stood outside in a fog.

"Everyone should know how good this family was," said Norma Vazquez.

The McConnells moved into the modest white house with green trim in a subdivision called Lake Berge almost 20 years ago. They watched homes sprout around them, and met everyone who moved in.

When Vazquez and her family arrived, Elroy McConnell and his wife, Amy Voelker, stopped by with a baby in a stroller and offered blankets and pillows.

"They were the first family that greeted us," said Vazquez, 55. That school year, Elroy McConnell walked Vazquez's son to the bus stop.

The three McConnell brothers — the older two from a previous marriage — looked out for each other and the neighborhood kids. They played kickball and manhunt in the streets and sat by smaller kids on the bus.

Elroy III used the name Roy, just like his father. He went to college in Louisiana and stayed, going on to coach sports and work as a manager at JCPenney, said Andrea Geoffrey, 23.

"He was a fun-loving goof," she said. "Just a big kid."

Nathan, an electrician, was quiet, always calm and careful. He married and had a daughter named Kayla, now 2. She spent Monday asking for her father.

Youngest son Kelly played rugby at the University of Miami, where he had just finished his first year. He had a girlfriend for more than a year.

Their father was chief executive of iCFO, a financial consulting firm. But he lived simply, driving cars until the last leg, avoiding debt. He taught biblical financial principles at his church, University Carillon United Methodist.

A triathlete and marathon runner, he woke early each morning to run and ride bikes. He played drums at church and would stay long after Tuesday morning Bible study to practice.

"He could lay down a beat," said executive pastor Chris Akers. "He was good."

The McConnells gave clothes and toys to their neighbors. Geoffrey, a single mother, once saw a huge stuffed duck on her porch through the glass door. Elroy McConnell had left it for her 3-year-old son.

"It's the circle of who you know and the lives they touched," said Rebecca Watson, cousin of McConnell's wife. "The ripple effect of that thread being removed is the real tragedy here."

• • •

Jordan faces four counts of DUI manslaughter and other charges. He was held under guard Monday at Bayfront Medical Center. His passenger and cousin, Mario Robinson, 20, was seriously injured and remained at Bayfront.

A judge set Jordan's bail at $220,250 — $50,000 for each DUI manslaughter charge, $20,000 for a charge of DUI resulting in serious bodily injury and $250 for a misdemeanor.

The family wants to forgive and educate about drunk driving, said Watson, former chairwoman of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Georgia.

"God has meaning for everyone," she said. "You can't live your life with hate in your heart. That puts you on hold."

Times staff writer Andy Boyle and researchers Shirl Kennedy and Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which contains information from the Orlando Sentinel. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

St. Petersburg police: Driver said he drank, smoked pot before crash that killed four 08/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 12:08am]
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