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November 27, 2013

Octavius Stone Vigil: Child remembered, driver dies

NEW CASTLE — A year to the day after running over and killing Octavius Stone, Virgil Eldon Coonfare died.

Family and friends of 7-year-old Octavius held a candlelight vigil for the child on Monday night on the steps of 941 Winslow Ave., where he had died Nov. 25, 2012.

Octavius, who loved superheros and playing with green plastic army men, was playing soldiers with his 9-year-old friend, Ozzy Velez. They were outside, on the sunny day, in front of the home of Barbara Brown, Ozzy’s grandmother.

According to police, about 2:15 p.m., a pickup truck driven by Coonfare turned from Stanton Avenue onto Winslow. The truck climbed an embankment and struck both children.

Ozzy was taken by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Octavius died at the scene of blunt force trauma to the chest. He was pronounced dead at 2:50 p.m. at Jameson Hospital by Richard Johnson, Lawrence County deputy coroner. He ruled the death an accident.

On Monday night, Johnson pronounced Coonfare dead at 8:50 p.m. at Jameson Hospital — just as the vigil was breaking up.

Coonfare, of Lawrence Manor, died three days shy of his 68th birthday. He had been found at his residence by a son, who called an ambulance to take his father to the hospital.

Johnson and Russell S. Noga, Lawrence County coroner, said Coonfare had suffered from cardiac and other health problems and had been under the care of doctors at the Butler Veterans Administration Hospital for some time.

“He had (multiple) medical issues,” Noga said.

No autopsy has been ordered because of Coonfare’s medical history, Noga said, but a toxicology test will be done.

“This appears to be a death by natural causes,” Johnson said. “But we left the cause of death ‘pending,’ until we get the toxicology report next week.

“He was a high-profile guy,” Johnson noted. “Due to the circumstances, the day that he died, we want to be sure nothing happened that was accidental or unintended.”

Following last year’s accident, Coonfare faced 21 charges including homicide by vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence, driving under the influence of a controlled substance and with impaired ability, three counts of involvement in an accident involving death or injury, driving while not properly licensed, driving while operating privileges are suspended or revoked, three counts of reckless driving, driving an unregistered vehicle, three counts of driving on a sidewalk, two counts of involvement in an accident resulting in damage of an unattended vehicle or property and two counts failing to stop and give information or render aid.

He was held for court on all charges and a trial has been pending for the past six months. Most recently, he was scheduled for trial the week of Dec. 9.

Monday’s candlelight vigil for Octavius had been organized by family and friends, according to the Rev. Bonnie Rhodes who lives a few blocks away on Winslow Avenue.

Rhodes opened and closed the session with prayers and flowers were presented to those attending. She estimated there were 15 to 20 people.

“In tune with the holiday season, I also encouraged everyone to be thankful for the memories they had of Octavius. He is here with us in spirit as long as we have the memories.”

As memories were traded, those gathered sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and Octavius’ favorite song, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

His mother, Cynthia “Chanet” Clark Jones, “who has taken this loss very hard, closed by saying, ‘Never forget to love your children. Kiss them, hug them every day,’” Rhodes recounted.

Afterward, she noted, candles were lit on the steps where the child died.

Rhodes said she had seen the truck climb the embankment and toss the two boys into the air.

Still recovering from a car accident herself, she said, Rhodes hobbled down the street, prayed and stayed with Octavius until he died in her arms.

Jones, Octavius and his sisters had lived next door to the scene of the accident. The family has since moved to New York.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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