Charmin Smith described it as a nightmare.
“We were asleep and one of his cousins called me. He said, ‘Run Run and them had a wreck. Run Run is laid on the ground.’”
She and her daughter Elaysheon Udley sit across from each other at the table. Charmin is stoic, matter-of-fact as she details the drive to Dyersburg in the overnight hours on Sunday, May 17.
“I thought maybe the police just had them laid out there, so I was like, ‘Tell ‘em to get up.’”
But 16-year-old Tyronzen would not get up.
Neither would his 21-year-old brother, Tyrone “T.J.” Smith, or TJ’s best friend, Tre’Veon Davis, 22.
“He was like, ‘Uh-uh, Run Run’s hurt real bad.’”
The three young men from Covington were passengers in the Infiniti G35 driven by Jeremy Grant. They’d attended a graduation party in Dyersburg with several other people.
Grant was speeding, police say, and an officer tried to pull him over. He wrecked the car and the impact threw Run Run, T.J. and Tray from the vehicle.
Charmin said for some reason that day Run Run’s infant son had been crying all day, so she helped his mother care for him. Later she checked Run Run’s location using the Find My Phone app.
“I saw he was with T.J. and T.J. don’t get in no trouble, so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not gonna call him because I know he’s good with his big brother.’”
And so, she went to sleep. She woke up to every parent’s worst fears.
When she and her husband Toby, who is the father of both Run Run and T.J., arrived at the scene they were directed to go to the hospital where the brothers were in the emergency room.
Elaysheon, who goes by “Lay Lay,” beat them there and was helping to identify her brothers to hospital staff members by describing their clothing.
Because of COVID-19 precautions, only patients and employees are allowed inside hospitals.
After they’d been there an hour another ambulance pulled up with Tray inside. There were no sirens.
“You already know what that means …” said Charmin. She looks down as her voice trails off, the pain of great losses still fresh in her mind.
Eventually they were able to see Run Run and T.J.
The boys were sedated.
T.J. didn’t look like himself at all, his girlfriend, Nykira Blackwell, said.
The opposite was true for his little brother.
“Run Run did not have a scratch on him,” Charmin said, her voice trembling slightly. “Nothing was out of place on him. He was just sleep. Just sleep. But T.J., he had a lot of injuries.”
Tre’Veon was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Run Run and T.J. were airlifted to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis.
After a lot of tests it was determined the brothers were brain dead and would not make it, the family learned.
Lay Lay said two days prior to their deaths, Run Run asked her best friend if she were afraid to die.
“She was like, ‘No, Run, I’m not scared to die …’ and he goes, ‘Okay, you with me, then. You with me.’”
“He wasn’t scared,” Charmin repeated. “He wasn’t scared.”
And this is where the devastation of losing not one but two children, plus their best friend, begins to turn into miracles, where death turns into life.
“Run Run, he was a healthy boy, he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke. He was just young and he was living life …” Charmin said.
It was the same for T.J., who was the third-leading rusher in Covington football history with 4,096 yards and 50 touchdowns, which ranks fourth all-time.
Charmin, Toby and T.J.’s mother, Tikita Winfrey, decided to donate the boys’ organs and tissues so that others may live.
T.J.’s left kidney saved a woman in her 50s.
“She is reported to be doing well and so grateful,” said Michael Norwood, the family care coordinator with the MidSouth Transplant Foundation, in a letter to the family which was received this week.
His liver was able to save the life of a woman who has a husband, four children and a new grandchild.
Run Run’s right kidney was donated to a woman in her 50s. His left kidney and pancreas saved the life of an Arkansas woman in her 40s. His liver stayed in the Memphis area and was donated to a man in his 60s. His lungs are in Nashville and saved a man in his 30s.
“His heart is beating strong in a gentleman from Alabama,” Norwood’s letter continued.
The family also has teddy bears with recordings of the brothers’ heartbeats to play as they wish.
Additionally, the tissue donations will be able to help up to 50 more people each over time.
“I know I made the right decision donating his parts, because I don’t care if it’s a year, five years or 10 years, I want to lay on somebody’s chest like they have in the movies and hear my son’s heartbeat in somebody that he done saved.”
Charmin, who is as stoic and strong as they come, becomes emotional discussing the lives saved though her son and stepson’s lives ended.
“I want to be able to have his son to be able to hear that.”
Their legacies will continue with their sons
Two of them also live on through their sons.
The proudest day of Run Run’s life was the day his son,Tyree, was born. Charmin said having that grandchild is what’s helping her get through the heartache.
“He look just like my son,” she said, laughing.
Charmin, Lay Lay and Nykira swap endearing stories about the young father who was also a rising senior.
“My husband said that boy was born early for a reason. We got something … he’s still here.”
It’s painful to lose one child, but two in the same day seems unbearable to anyone you’d ask.
Charmin said Toby finds comfort in knowing they went together.
“He said it’s very hard, but the fact that they went together … if one had to live and one had to die he doesn’t think he’d be able to cope. He said even though they couldn’t move, they walked in Heaven together. They were all together.”
Kim Byrd, their middle school teacher, suggested they danced into Heaven, which elicits a laugh.
T.J.’s longtime best friend Tray was not able to donate organs, but his legacy did not end the day he died, either.
He was excited to become a father and was looking forward to meeting his son later this month.
“[Tray] was so happy,” his mother, Felicia Currie, said.
The week before Tray died, he’d sent his mother a photo of a Power Wheel he wanted to buy.
“He said, ‘I’m gonna get this for my baby …’ and I said, ‘Boy, what is he gonna do with that? He’s too little for that …’”
Tray, she said, was very adamant about it because he was so excited about his son.
They plan to buy the Power Wheel for Tre’Veon Jr. as a way to honor his father’s memory.
Felicia has been distraught over the loss. At the time of the interview she was trying to emotionally prepare for the final goodbye to her son and the birth of her grandson.
But, as has happened over and over again, the bitterness of this tragedy has been followed by the miracle of life.
A joint viewing was held Saturday, May 30 at Greater St. John Church in Covington, then the young men were buried together at Townsend Cemetery.
On a day filled with so much grief, Tray’s girlfriend, Tasia Buford, went into labor weeks earlier than expected.
Their son, Tre’Veon Jr., was born the following day.
“Words can’t even begin to describe this feeling,” Tasia’s mother, Lenora, posted on Facebook. “This beautiful baby boy sent from Heaven to help bring joy after such an incredible loss.”
For more on organ and tissue donation, see donatelife.net.