“My brother was nice. He was a good man... He would take the shirt off his back to help people out,” Ethelene Campbell said on Friday, as she sat in her car along Red Hill Church Road. The breeze from the passing cars shook her sedan and tears raced down her cheeks as she waited for the rest of her family to arrive for a balloon-release.
This was where her brother died.
Sixty-three-year-old Jarronnie Campbell of Erwin was on his way to help out at the Stewart farm Wednesday morning when police say a car crossed the center line on Red Hill Church Road and crashed into his vehicle. The collision took his life.
Ethelene Campbell was at work that morning when she got the call. She couldn’t talk about it Friday. The loss has been hard on her and her entire family.
“Sometimes, you know, I wonder why bad things happen to good people,” she said. “And the meanest people — don’t nothing happen to them.”
Troopers with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol say 28-year-old Ashley Cordes of Benson was traveling north on Red Hill Church Road when her Hyundai Entourage veered into Campbell’s lane and hit his 1999 Honda Accord head-on. Cordes has been charged with driving while impaired.
The case remains under investigation and more charges may be pending.
Friends and family say Campbell was always cheerful, had a nickname for nearly everyone he met and made helping others a lifelong mission.
“He was on his way over to our place, coming to work in the garden. We live about three miles that way,” said Hughie Stewart III, sitting in a truck near the crash site Friday evening. Campbell would always come help the family pick vegetables, many of which were given to others in need around the area.
“He always called this one Hughie, Hughie, Hughie,” Deborah Stewart said, pointing to her husband, “since he is Hughie, the third... We just died laughing. He’d say, ‘Hughie, Hughie, Hughie, what you cooking?’”
Campbell liked his sweet tea, she said. He’d always ask for a glass when he’d sit down to eat and he was always welcome to join them. He was a part of the family, said Hughie Stewart Jr., “Hughie, Hughie, Hughie’s” father.
The senior Stewart said a friend of his with health problems came out to the farm about two years ago and was having a hard time getting around. Campbell told him to give him his bucket and rest, he said. He picked the peas for him.
“He was just like that,” he added. “You don’t see many others like that.”
Tobacco plants, yellowed by the hot summer sun and lack of nitrogen in the soil, lined both sides of the road. Jarronnie Campbell’s car came to rest just a few feet away from the plants on Wednesday morning. The ground was still etched with the scars from that wreck - the ruts that signified the path his car took and the orange paint where troopers investigated it.
Dozens of family and friends gathered at the scene at 6 p.m. Friday to share the memories of Jarronnie Campbell.
“He always had a smile,” Deborah Stewart said.
“You never seen him have a bad day. He was always smiling,” said the senior Stewart. “You never heard him say anything out of the way about anybody else or cuss.”
“We want justice,” said Joe Stokes, brother of Jarronnie Campbell.
Dozens of friends and family members, held onto balloons at the event, praying, singing a gospel tune, talking about the differences he made in their lives and teasing over who was his favorite girlfriend. His niece claimed that title as a smile tried to break through the grief-stricken face of his wife, Kathy Mason.
“We will see him again,” said Jarronnie Campbell’s sister, Linda Campbell.
Some balloons were scribed with messages: “Heaven couldn’t wait for you, God is lucky to have you!”
The service was partially muted by the steady rush of cars along the road, but some cars slowed down as two boys played a tribute song on tuba and trombone.
“This is a bad road,” Deborah Stewart said. “They need to patrol this road... People don’t pay attention.”