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November 27, 2012

Neighbor on horrific accident: ‘I held his hands and prayed’

NEW CASTLE — Bonny Rhodes doesn’t believe she’s ever seen anything as horrific as what she saw Sunday afternoon.

The East Side woman said she had a nightmare that night and expects them to keep coming.

Rhodes saw the accident that took the life of her young neighbor, Octavius Stone, 7, of 939 Winslow Ave.

She was going somewhere with her niece and nephew, Rhodes recalled, and they were on her porch at 1008 Winslow Ave.

“I turned my head just in time to see the yellow pickup truck come around the corner on two wheels. It went up the embankment and hit the first little boy, throwing him into the air. He landed on the steps. The truck shifted to the two wheels on the other side and hit the other little boy. He was also tossed into the air. The truck missed the dog that was tied to the porch.”

The second boy, Emil Osborn Velez, 9, of Volant, known as Ozzy, was taken to Jameson Hospital then by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh.

New Castle police said the pickup truck was driven by Virgil Eldon Coonfare, 66, of 920 Beckford St.

Coonfare has been charged with homicide by vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, aggravated assault by vehicle and driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. He is being held in the Lawrence County jail without bond.

Rhodes was involved in an accident on Veterans Day that left her with a broken leg. “I ran with a cast on my broken leg,” she said.

When she got to Octavius, she said, “He was in a pool of blood, in a fetal position, his little hands together, on the steps.”

She said she spoke to the child.

“I told him Jesus loves you. God will help you. I held his hands and prayed ‘God is with you.’ ”

She said he looked at her and smiled a little. “I checked on the other boy. He did not appear to be hurt as badly. He was passed out.”

Rhodes said she told her niece to remain with the other boy and returned to Octavius. She said she kept talking to him in a calm, reassuring voice, telling him of the love of God.

“Then I heard him breathe two quick breaths and he lost consciousness. I tracked a cross on his forehead with my finger. I knew he was slipping away.”

She said police and ambulance crews began arriving and allowed her to remain with the child as they worked on him.

“They told me to stay, that he needed to hear the sound of my voice, to hear the kind words that I was speaking, to give him comfort.”

Rhodes said she also spoke with Coonfare. She said he got out of his truck and walked back toward the house where the boys were, adding he seemed dazed.

Later, she noted, he said he has grandchildren too and was sorry for what had happened.

She said he sat on the grass until the police came.

“These little boys were doing no harm,” she said. “They were sitting in their own yard playing with their toys. They should have been safe.

“This was the most horrible thing I’ve seen in my life,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Richard Johnson, Lawrence County deputy coroner, said he supervised Octavius’ autopsy Sunday night, then visited the accident site.

“They told me the little boys were playing in their front yard, eating Cheetos,” he said. “I saw the hillside with the ruts from the truck and blood and Cheetos on the steps.

“Something like that just shouldn’t happen.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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