PARA honoring Tuscaloosa girl killed by city bus in 1997
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Every year on Sept. 12, Monique Hughes and her family make a point to visit a white cross that stands along Elm Street, across the fence from Kaulton Park.
There, Hughes and others put out plastic flowers and remembrances around the cross, honoring the memory of her sister, Connie Jeanette Hughes, on what would have been her birthday. Twenty years earlier, she was killed near the park when a city bus hit her. Several yards from the cross is the bus stop.
Hughes remembers hearing about her 16-year-old sister’s death on Dec. 30, 1997. At the time, Hughes was pregnant and living in town when she heard about the accident.
“I just broke down and cried,” Hughes said.
Now, the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority is in the process of honoring Connie by planting a tree in her honor, as well as installing a park bench and special plaque to memorialize her.
“We just thought it would be a good thing to do to have something more permanent,” said Gary Minor, director of PARA.
Minor said talk about doing something for the Hughes family came about after speaking with Jerry Carter, president of the local NAACP chapter. Before that, Carter had approached Connie’s guardian, Merral Denise Hinton, at her restaurant, The Café on 39th Street.
According to media reports at the time, Connie was hit while riding her bike. However, Hughes and her guardian, Merral Denise Hinton, claim that she was standing beside her bike near the road when the bus accidentally struck her.
“The family is keeping her memory alive out there,” Carter said. “I just thought there could be more done for the family and something that enhances the park.”
Carter said Hinton was excited about the possibility to honor Connie, saying that it seemed memories of her were beginning to fade.
“She was a sweet person who got along with everyone,” Hinton said.
Hinton said at the time of her death, Connie was a student at Westlawn Middle School and was loved by many people in the community.
“She would always be there to help anyone who needed it,” she said.
A subsequent investigation by the Tuscaloosa Police Department cleared the bus driver of any wrongdoing, citing that it “appears it will be a violation on the part of the bicyclist.” At the time, there were no sidewalks fronting the street or any bicycle trail. In the years since, a bicycle trail was laid out on the outside of the park fence.
Carter said Connie’s story resonated with him because of his own daughter.
“That could have been my daughter,” he said.
PARA will likely install the plaque over the next few months.
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com