Lack of notification ‘devastating’ for family of Camden hit-and-run victim

On February 19, 2017—a balmy Sunday with a high of 70 degrees–Edwin L. Jones, Jr. appeared to have vanished into thin air.

For the next two days, family members searched everywhere for the 64-year old Camden man, who has four children, a dozen grandkids, and a great-grandson.

They had no idea that Jones had been the victim of a hit-and-run driver as he attempted to cross Baird Boulevard at Grand Street in Camden that night at about 10:50 pm, not far from the apartment on Randolph Street where he’d lived for many years.

They didn’t know that his blood still stained the street or that he was in a coma in the Trauma Unit of Cooper University Hospital with 15 fractured ribs and traumatic brain injuries that put his chances of waking up at about 10 percent, with the likelihood he will be in a vegetative state if he regains consciousness.

It wasn’t until two days later, on February 21, that Jones’ daughter-in-law Michelle Long — in the course of phoning the county jail and all the area hospitals– happened to call Cooper.

“They kept transferring me,” said Long, and then finally, she says, she was told Jones was there. “The woman said, ‘Is this his family? You need to come!'” She and husband Edwin Still then “flew,” she said, from their Magnolia, N.J., home to Cooper. “And there he was,” said Long, “with tubes everywhere!”

The family said they were especially baffled by the lack of notification — either from police or hospital personnel — because Jones had both his wallet and cell phone on him when he was hit.

“It was just devastating to find him like that,” said Jones’ sister, Philadelphia evangelist Frankie White.

On Friday, February 23, Long and Still say they went to Camden County Police headquarters and were told by a detective who identified himself as the crash investigator that “someone failed to put this incident on his desk.”

They were given an accident report, and thus were able to thank the passing motorist who saw Jones lying in the road and stopped to call for help. The report also states that the car’s side mirror was found at the scene.

Camden County spokesperson Dan Keashen said that the investigation of the hit-and-run is “open and active,” and said “There does appear to be an internal break in communication in regard to family notification. Our internal affairs division is looking into the matter to identify where that breakdown took place.”

A spokesperson for Cooper University Hospital declined to comment on the case, citing patient privacy concerns.

Still and Long were bewildered and angry as they knocked on doors along Baird Boulevard last Thursday hoping to find witnesses to the hit-and-run.

“I’m not eating or sleeping properly,” said Still. “My dad was my best friend, it’s hurting me, I don’t have closure. I feel like I’m just getting the runaround.”

The perceived lack of attention from authorities makes family members suspicious. Long said the detective told her that a rotating camera at Baird and Marlton Pike “wasn’t facing in the right direction until after the ambulance left the scene.” But, she said, “Kids have to cross this to go to school. You’re telling me that’s the only camera you have in the area?” Edwin Still added: “I personally don’t want to think this, but it could have had something to do with a cop car.”

Family members are also frustrated that the only appeal for witnesses to the hit-and-run has been in the form of a short press release issued by the Camden County Police Department on February 28, nine days after the hit-and-run. It does not mention Jones by name. “They should put this on the news!” said Long.

Former NewsWorks editor Brian Hickey, a hit-and-run victim himself in 2008, said the goal in these situations “is to put out the information instantly…the sooner people find out, the better.”

Hickey sees hope for bringing motorists in these cases to justice in Pennsylvania in the form of legislation introduced there last month by state Senator Anthony Hardy Williams. Named the “Jay Alerts” bill after 2016 Philadelphia hit-and-run victim eight-year old Jayanna Powell, it would tap into the already existing Amber Alert infrastructure, and legally require auto-body shops to tell law enforcement agencies if a vehicle matching the description in a hit-and-run is brought in for repairs. Colorado already has a similar program.

In the case of Jayanna Powell, Philadelphia police officers participated in memorial walks for the girl, and checked on the grieving family regularly. The family was so touched by this that they presented two officers with pendants with Jayanna’s picture on the front and the words “You will always be my hero” on the back.

White hopes that her brother’s past wasn’t a factor in the lack of notification.

“He was an IV drug user for many years,” she said, “and in and out of jail. But he was still a person, still a human being.”

Jones, said White, was “a happy-go-lucky, positive-type person” who’d been clean for the past year and was turning his life around.

“He had a dark side,” she said, “but that doesn’t negate the fact that he was left like a carcass on the side of the road…He didn’t deserve for the police department and hospital to drop the ball.”

Anyone with information about this incident please call the Camden County Police Department tip line at (856) 757-7042.

________________________________________________________

April Saul is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who spent the 2014-15 school year embedded at Camden High School and who served as advisor to the Camden High school newspaper, The Castle Crier, during the past year. She writes about Camden on her Facebook page, “Camden, NJ: A Spirit Invincible” 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.