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Suspect charged in Wendell teen's hit-and-run death

The football team of a 13-year-old boy killed in a hit-and-run Tuesday morning did not hold practice that evening. Instead, they gathered and prayed.

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WENDELL, N.C. — Keith Jones Jr. used his speed to convince Darrell Thomas to let him join the Knightdale Dragons, a Pop Warner football team.

He was one of the smaller players on the team, but his quickness almost paid off in a recent football game where Jones nearly scored his first touchdown. Jones, the team’s running back, was knocked out of bounds at the one-yard-line.

“He had more heart than anyone out there,” said Thomas, Jones’ head coach.

Thomas was among dozens who remembered Jones, who was killed in a hit-and-run incident Tuesday morning.

The team was supposed to practice Tuesday evening. Instead, they came together and prayed.

"We lost a brother today. And we lost a friend,” said Amanda Cartwright, Football Commissioner for the Knightdale Dragons, while holding back tears. “A mother lost a child. I don't have the words. I don't have the right words, I don't know what to say."

Jones, 13, a student at Wendell Middle School, was waiting for a school bus outside his Edgemont Road home in Wendell Tuesday morning when he was hit by a 1989 burgundy Ford Crown Victoria.

Authorities said the driver never stopped.

Jones' mother, Marie, was leaving for work when she saw his book bag on the ground.

"I picked up his book bag," she said. "It was somewhat damaged like it had been ripped off of him. That's when I knew something was not right."

Marie Jones then found her only child lying face-down in a ditch. She administered CPR.

"To know that he had been hit and hurt and lying in a ditch, that was the hard part," she said. "Trying to save his life was easy."

Efren Vences, 28, of 186 Jack Road in Clayton, surrendered to the state Highway Patrol Tuesday afternoon and was charged with felony hit-and-run and no operator’s license. He was later charged Tuesday night with misdemeanor death by a motor vehicle.

Vences posted a $50,000 bond early Wednesday and was due to make his first court appearance Wednesday morning.

Vences' fiancée, who identified herself only as Kaitlyn, said Tuesday afternoon that he was driving down Edgemont Road like he does every morning and thought he hit a deer. When he learned about the child’s death, he immediately surrendered, she said.

"I want everybody to know it wasn't his intention to leave a crime scene. He would never do that," Kaitlyn said. "He's a good guy. He's a father at that. He would never do that to a child intentionally."

At Tuesday’s practice, Thomas, the football coach, walked away from the gathering several times to keep his emotions from his players.

"Those are my…those are my boys," he said. “It hit me kinda hard.”

Jones' heart will be donated. He will be buried wearing his football uniform.

Family and friends have set up a fund to help defray funeral expenses for Keith Jones.


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