Following the death of 8-year-old Jadann Williams, who was hit by an SUV on East 22nd Street earlier this week, her family — and the driver — are reeling from the loss.
“I’m empty. My heart is ripped out,” Jadann’s mother, Claire Williams, told NBC New York. “I don’t have any being left in my body and I’m crying out for someone to hear.” We reached out to Claire but she was understandably not interested in talking more about it.
The child, whose nickname was Sheena Mo, was a resident of the dead-end block, located just off Ditmas Avenue. And, as on the evening of the incident, she frequently played with other local kids out in the street, which neighbors told us is in part because of a lack of playgrounds nearby. A basketball hoop that stood at the street’s end has been removed since the incident, with memorials replacing it — including one centered around a basketball, as the sport was a favorite of Jadann’s.
“She was like a sister to me,” said one boy who lives on the block and was friends with Jadann. “We would get in trouble together.”
He pointed out some of the important items included in Jadann’s memorial, including her bike, her scooter, and her favorite basketball. “I put my caster board out too, because she loved playing with it,” he explained.
The driver of the SUV, 35-year-old Reginald Auguste, stayed at the scene and answered police questions. Residents say Auguste once lived on the block, and he tells us his son and Jadann were friends. No charges have been filed against Auguste at this time, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office.
We spoke briefly to an emotional Auguste, who said he wished there was some way he could go back and prevent the incident from happening. He gave us this statement:
On August 26th, 2015, I was involved in a tragic motor vehicle accident and a precious life was lost. I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the family of Jadann Williams. I am not a stranger to E 22nd Street, even though I do not live there. My son and Jadann were friends. I assure you that I was sober and alert, and there was nothing I could have done differently to avoid the accident. As a father, I can only imagine the terrible grief that accompanies your loss. Please accept my heartfelt condolences for your terrible loss, and my prayers that are extended to your family.
To the residents of E 22nd Street, I do understand the anger and hurt you feel over the loss of a child so beloved. I must ask that you do not continue to seek consolation through retaliation against my son’s family.
During questioning at the scene, authorities say 25-year-old Ryan Romans, who residents say lives nearby, attacked Auguste, punching him in the face. Romans was reportedly tackled by police and taken into custody, and has been charged with assault, menacing, and harassment. The DA’s office says he was arraigned on Thursday.
We reached out to the 70th Precinct to confirm whether any complaints have been filed regarding any threats against Auguste’s family since the incident, and they’re looking into it — we’ll update as we get additional details.
On Friday evening, neighbors continued to gather at the dead-end and share stories about Jadann, offering support to her family with donations — a jar has been set upon cards and notes left in her memory — as well as with food. Music played as neighbors sat outside preparing a chicken dinner as part of “nine nights,” an extended wake shared in Caribbean communities following the passing of a loved one.
“To keep the grieving family company,” explained neighbor Carla Thomas.
Usually set up inside the home of the family, residents on this tight-knit street placed tables outside, preparing to eat together on the block they all call home.
With additional reporting by Mary Bakija.