Dunn, N.C. — A Dunn church community is grieving the loss of a 13-year-old boy who died Thursday morning while running an errand with his father.
Caden Allen, 13, and his father, Curtis Allen, 52, were traveling in their PT Cruiser along N.C. Highway 242 in Dunn around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when a box truck, driven by Nelson Ramos Jr., collided with them at the intersection of N.C. Highway 55 near the Johnston-Sampson county line.
The truck flipped and the car went into a ditch. Caden was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Allens lived about 3 miles from the wreck site, where Caden's mother also has a gift shop. She recently opened a flower shop in Dunn. Caden and his father had been making a delivery to the new store, neighbors said.
"I just hung out with him last weekend," said Trevor Johnson, who was friends with him at Mt. Carmel Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church in Dunn. "We had a great time, but we're not promised tomorrow. He was a true Christian. He followed God, so I know he's in a better place now."
Caden's youth pastor, James Westbrook, said church was a big part of life for the teen, who had recently dedicated his life to Christ.
"Does it take the pain away, knowing we're going to miss him? No," Westbrook said. "But it gives us a sense of peace."
The youngest of four siblings, Caden was a loving boy who was full of life and full of curiosity about the Bible, Westbrook said.
"He always had questions – always had questions about Revelations and the end of time and things like that," Westbrook said.
Friends have built a makeshift memorial out of flowers, signs and stuffed toys at the wreck site.
"This is a tragedy for our church, their family" said friend Amber Peterson. "But God turns tragedies into blessings, someway, somehow."
As family and friends grieve, the Highway Patrol is still investigating the wreck.
Ramos, troopers said, was charged with failure to stop and misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. They say he ran a blinking red light, but it's unclear how fast he might have been going because there were no skid marks on the road.
Alcohol was not a factor in the wreck, investigators said.
Witnesses described an emotional scene Thursday morning as Curtis Allen, who is a deacon at his church, tried to free himself from his car to save his son.
"He was trying to get out of the vehicle, and I told him, 'No, you need to stay here,'" said Amy Earp, who witnessed the wreck. "He was like, 'My son, my son.'"
"When I walked up on that, seeing him, I kind of lost it," said Sharon Cerceo, who has lived near the intersection for five years.
This is the fourth accident she's seen. Each one takes an emotional toll on her, she said.
"Especially when it's kids involved," she said.
According to court records, Ramos was charged in 2007 with driving without an operator's license and reckless driving but the charges were later dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.
In 2010, he was charged again with driving without an operator's license and unsafe movement.