It was the usual math: one repeat DUI offender in jail plus one innocent victim.
And the usual result: hundreds of broken hearts.
More than 600 family and friends of Josiah Jenkins, 3, a happy boy beloved by all who knew him said those who spoke, swelled the Refuge Temple Church’s pews Sunday in North Columbia for his funeral.
Josiah died last week at Palmetto Health Richland children’s hospital after suffering severe head trauma when his car was struck by another vehicle. Lonnie Gross III, 44, who has a history of four DUI convictions and was out on bond for another DUI arrest in November, is now in jail. He is being held without bond on felony DUI charges.
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“My grandnephew has been taken out by a drunk driver. It’s happening all over the world,” Bishop Theodore Jenkins told the mourners in hushed tones. “This man had six or seven DUIs.”
Two victims’ advocates who attended Sunday’s funeral said afterward Josiah died because South Carolina’s culture places a higher value on letting repeat DUI offenders like Gross get back on the road than on saving children like Josiah.
“This was a totally preventable tragedy — citizens and the General Assembly need to have the will to do something about it,” said Laura Hudson, head of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council.
David Longstreet, whose 6-year-old daughter, Emma, was killed by a repeat DUI offender two years ago in Lexington while the family was on their way to church, echoed Hudson. Emma’s killer, repeat DUI offender Billy Hutto, is serving a nine-year prison sentence for her death.
“Does it take more lives to be killed before we do something? After Emma was killed, everybody kept telling me, ‘Oh, well, the General Assembly will do something.’ Well, they haven’t,” said Longstreet, who came with Hudson to show support for Josiah’s family.
A State Senate-passed bill — called Emma’s Law — authored by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, would implement tougher controls on DUI offenders. But it has been stalled for more than a year in an obscure S.C. House subcommittee. But after a spate of high-profile DUI deaths this year, the bill will get a hearing Thursday. Defense lawyers and others are expected to kill or weaken it, but supporters are rallying.
“We’re hoping to pack the room with concerned citizens,” Hudson said, stressing South Carolina has some of the weakest DUI laws in the nation and some of the highest DUI-related fatality numbers.
Lourie’s bill, which would require all first-time DUI offenders to use a ignition-interlock device that would prevent them from starting the car if they were impaired, has bipartisan support.
At Sunday’s service, the emphasis was on Josiah’s goodness, assurances that he was now in heaven and that God – whatever we may think – is firmly in charge.
Speakers recalled the suffering of Job, who lost his family to the devil, and listened to a minister recited the King James version of the 23rd Psalm, with special emphasis on the line, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Bishop Sylvester Reid quoted the 2,500-year-old lines of Job 1:21, with its ancient mix of helplessness and hope, despair and faith: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Rachelle Glover read lines from Josiah’s obituary, which read in part: “Josiah had a ton of energy; he loved to run. . . . He was fascinated with airplanes and jigsaw puzzles.” He loved church, using an iPad and in his preschool class at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary School, he was named Star Student for the nine weeks’ grading period. He would have been 4 April 7.
“He was no ordinary child,” said a neighbor, Lucille Dubard, who told the crowd how alert Josiah was to events in his life. “He was a special child. I told his mother that God sent him to us. I don’t think there’ll be another Josiah.”
“I was very thankful I got to share in Josiah’s life,” said his teacher, Marcia Ellison, who said Josiah was quiet but keenly observant to all around him. “Although we only held his hand for a little while at Lewis Greenview, we will hold him in our hearts forever.”
After the service, Longstreet said, “If this bill could have passed last year, we may could have saved poor little Josiah.”