TAYLOR TOWNSHIP, Lawrence County — Alissa Jones was a marksman, held a 4.0 grade-point average through high school and set lofty goals about studying forensic science and criminal justice in college.
She graduated this year from Greenbrier East High School in Lewisburg, W.Va., and was the first sibling in her family with college aspirations. She applied to dozens of colleges and, because of her grades and achievements, she had her pick.
Alissa chose West Viriginia Wesleyan University in Buckhannon, where she was accepted with the promise of a scholarship in forensic science. She was eager about getting started in the fall. She had moved to West Pittsburg, where her parents live, for the summer, and was returning home there from a visit June 30 with family and friends in Organ Cave, W.Va., where she lived during school.
But within seconds, her life came to a tragic end.
As she got out of the car in front of her family’s home around 11 p.m. that night and was unloading her belongings in the dark, she was struck by an approaching tractor-trailer. She was left unconscious and bleeding on the pavement as the vehicle drove away. Alissa died from her injuries two days later.
State troopers and New Castle police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Jones’ death. The presumed driver or owner of the tractor-trailer is facing a civil lawsuit filed by the Jones family, based upon a separate investigation conducted by the law firm of Dallas W. Hartman.
According to an account given by Alissa’s sister, April, the Jones family car had parked about 15 feet from their home at 241 Center Ave. in West Pittsburg, a neighborhood in Taylor Township just south of New Castle.
April and her two daughters — Alissa’s nieces — had gone inside the house about 30 seconds earlier.
When April heard the crash, she ran back outside.
“I screamed, ‘Lissy!’” she said.
She found her younger sister lying on the pavement and the tractor-trailer speeding away. She called 911, she said, Taylor Township fire Chief David Allegro, who administered life-saving measures, was first on the scene.
“I asked him to get us a helicopter,” April said. “They landed it at the Taylor Township swimming pool.”
Alissa was flown to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Youngstown. The Jones family drove by car, arriving before the helicopter did. There, they sat in a waiting room with high anxiety for several hours until they finally were able to see Alissa later the next morning.
Alissa lay unresponsive in a coma in the hospital’s intensive care unit for two days, until, after conferring with the doctors, her family members decided on July 2 to remove her life support system, and they said their final goodbyes.
Norman Jones is quiet man whose eyes mirror deep sadness. He stares silently at his lap when the subject comes up of his daughter and that horrifying night. April displays the family’s strength as she talks, at first with reserve, about those three traumatic days.
It’s only when she talks about her sister’s life, her achievements and goals and their closeness that she opens up like a flower to share about how Alissa lived.
To 28-year-old April, 19-year-old Alissa was so much more than just a younger sister.
“She was my best friend. We did everything together,” she said, including that last trip to West Virginia.
Alissa was born June 7, 2000, to Norman Jones and Phyllis Whitlock Jones. She had two brothers, Joseph Jones and T.J. Morgan, and, in addition to April, her sisters were Heather Jones, Cheyenne Morgan and Cody Morgan.
April preserves her sister’s memory with a scrapbook that Alissa had made of her achievements.
“She wanted to be an EMT,” April said.
Alissa’s extracurricular interests included Future Farmers of America and Junior ROTC. She had worked at a Dollar General store that was owned by relatives. She had won awards for school spirit and academics.
She was an accomplished shooter and ranked fourth in a state shooting match with the Greenbrier East High School team.
Alissa had compiled a list of things she wanted to do before she was 30 years old. That list included getting a new car, moving to Pennsylvania, starting college, visiting Australia and going skydiving.
“She had so many things she wanted to accomplish. She wanted so hard to succeed,” April said of her sister’s ambitions. “But her biggest goal was getting into college. She was so proud of herself. She worked constantly.”
April had a difficult year in 2018, having undergone a liver transplant last November. Alissa helped her through it, taking time time off school for about a month to take care of her sister at home. Alissa continued with homebound instruction during that time to keep up her perfect grade point average, then she finished her senior year in West Virginia.
April believes it was her transplant that influenced Alissa to sign up to become an organ donor. Upon her death, Alissa’s eye tissue was donated to a cornea transplant recipient in Danbury, Conn. Alissa’s family is hoping to meet the recipient’s relatives, April said.
In the aftermath of Alissa’s death, the Jones family has been surrounded by love and support from their community.
“So many people have done what they can to help, coming around and checking on us,” April said. Some things are in the making that are designed to help the family continue with its healing.”
The online condolences have been a particular source of comfort, Norman Jones said.
“It’s just been so nice that people have reached out to us through social media,” he said, “people we don’t even know. I’m not a big Facebook person, but I read through a lot of the comments.”
He said one woman baked 150 pepperoni rolls and sold them to benefit the family. In the aftermath of his daughter’s death, Norman said he is focusing on what needs to be done and caring for his family.
“I’m just trying to do what Alissa would have wanted,” he said. “She wouldn’t want me to sit in a corner and just grieve.”
Norman and April said the family gets a lot of support from West Virginia, where family and friends put on a celebration of life for Alissa at her former school. Youths who knew her attended with their parents, and teachers and friends told stories about how they remembered her. Norman said Alissa’s West Pittsburg relatives never realized the depth of her connections with her West Virginia classmates until they attended the event.
A group of women from New Castle will host a Syrian food fundraiser later this month and another supporter is selling t-shirts to buy teddy bears for police officers to give as gifts to abused children. The bears will have a tag that reads, “a hug from Alissa.”
“They’re all complete strangers,” April said.
But one question remains: What about the truck driver who sped down Center Avenue that night and hit Alissa?
Attorney Dallas M. Hartman — son of the firm’s owner, Dallas W. Hartman — has filed a civil lawsuit, which is pending in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas. The family is suing Robert L. Hodge and firms related to the company where Hodge was working at the time of the accident. The lawsuit paperwork refers to Hodge as having been the driver for the company that owns the truck that struck Alissa.
New Castle police chief Bobby Salem said Wednesday that investigators are still waiting for findings in the accident from a state police reconstruction team. New Castle police patrol in Taylor Township under a contract between the two municipalities.
Salem said he anticipates a meeting on the matter this week with state police. The case has a lot of different dynamics compared with a typical accident, Salem said, because it caused a fatality.
The chief said the reconstruction investigation of a fatal accident can take several months.
“We’ve been in contact with the state police all along,” he said.