When “The Good Samaritan” awoke on a Wednesday morning, she never expected anything out of the norm.
This single mother started her morning out as usual, like the day before and the day before that. She looked out of her window at the rising sun slightly peeking over the trees, prepared for the tasks that awaited her and her wide-eyed 2-year-old daughter, Lilly, to come running in with excitement, eager to play outside on the porch.
Brittany Kirkley, 22, a brown-haired, green-eyed “country girl to the bone” as she calls it, spent the majority of her life in New Chapel Hill with friends and family. Being surrounded by good company was something she has always enjoyed for as long as she could remember.
Much like Brittany, was a quiet but ambitious, humble and adventurous 19-year-old TJC student, Randy DeShawn Smith of Groveton. Both never knew their paths would cross in such a grim and tragic way on March 9.
“It happened so fast,” said Kirkley. “I was traveling during the afternoon two cars behind, when his vehicle collided with an SUV and flipped. I remember running towards the scene after the crash to see what I could do, telling him that I would try and get him out, but I out, but I didn’t even know his name. I wasn’t concerned with questions or anything at that point. All that mattered was making sure he was safe.”
The red 1996 Ford Explorer lay overturned in the glass-covered street. Meta McDaniel, 46, the driver of a tan 2008 GMC Yukon plowed into the passenger side of the Explorer as it turned to quick in the right hand lane on University Drive.
The impact of the wreck caused extensive damage to the vehicle. Gasoline was beginning to leak. The strong scent was undoubtedly filling the air.
A light haze of smoke was seen escaping from beneath the hood, but that didn’t stop Kirkley from doing what she could to try and save Smith’s life.
“There was a seatbelt dangling that kept hitting him in the face, so I reached in to try and move it,” said Kirkley. “I wanted to make him as comfortable as I could, but as my arm made it in to reach the seatbelt, the car burst into flames and I was forced to back away.”
Orange and yellow flames shot out and engulfed the red Explorer as spectators watched helplessly at a safe distance. Kirkley began wiping away singed strands of hair before feeling the pain of the second-degree burns to her face, arm and neck.
She stood motionless taking it all in. Confused. In shock. Emotional and in pain. She didn’t know whether to be strong or to weep.
Kirkley described the accident in three words, “horrific, devastating and tragic.” No matter how hard she tried, the images of Smith would not fade away from her memory. The accident is something that will haunt her for the rest of her life.
“Thinking about it now, after knowing a lot more about Randy, I feel he’s helped me in many ways. He has had some really bad medical issues among other things, but regardless he still tried his best at life. He made me want to get off my butt and actually do something with my future. I feel it’s how he’s helped save my life,” Kirkley said.
Smith was one of those people who, when someone met him, they just knew he was special. But he was also very quiet, explained Spencer Ellison, professor of Criminal Justice at TJC.
“The Randy Smith I knew was a very colorful person who didn’t say much. I remember him sitting in the back of the classroom in my Introduction to Criminal Justice course last fall. He participated when requested, but he never was a big talker.”
There was a time when Smith actually talked. He had a conversation with his Ellision after being asked if he was feeling OK.
Smith had been laying his head down on the desk, later explaining that he was feeling sick due to some medical issues and a relapse of Sickle Cell Anemia. His eyes were always very yellow and pale in color, and on somedays he seemed fragile and weak.
“Randy was one of my more memorable students because of his demeanor. I will never forget how he always wore different color baseball caps every day to class. Like I said, he was a very colorful person. Other students would say what they wanted, but he was different. He spoke when he had to and kept to himself. You could tell he was there for a reason and that reason was to earn his degree.”
Smith was one of four foster children in Emmitt Horace’s and his wife’s care. He brought joy to their lives and when he first arrived, they knew it was the right decision. They bonded instantly.
“When Randy arrived he was scared, skinny and hungry,” said Horace. “But as he headed off to college, he was fearless, strong and full. He was one of the first foster kids to go to college. We had a lot of hope in him going on and making something out of himself. He was a good person who loved to help who he could.”
Smith will be remembered for more than his colorful personality or the baseball caps he wore to class every day.
“He has inspired so many in his life and encouraged so many through his death. He has encouraged me to do my best,” Kirkley said. “It’s not about how much time we are given but about what we do with it. I’m sure from what I know now about Randy, that he made every minute count.”