Members of an Orange County family that lost a father and three sons in a crash involving a man accused of drunken driving said Monday they were grieving but not vengeful.
Forgiveness is what Roy McConnell — who died with his sons early Sunday in St Petersburg — would want his loved ones to focus on, said Rebecca Watson, a cousin of McConnell's wife.
"It means that understanding that life and God has meaning for everyone, and that you can't live your life with hate in your heart because that puts you on hold," Watson said at the family home in east Orange County. "That allows the event to take over your life from this point forward."
McConnell and his sons would never want anyone to live their life that way, said Watson, who lives in Alabama and is on the state operations council of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Georgia.
Instead, the family wants to send a message of forgiveness and accountability, Watson said.
McConnell, 51, sons Nathan, 24, and Kelly, 19, both of Orlando; and Elroy "Roy" McConnell III, 28, of Pineville, La., were killed after a driver ran a red light and plowed into their Ford Fusion while the McConnell clan was on a beach vacation, police said.
St. Petersburg police reports say 20-year-old Demetrius Jordan had been drinking when he slammed his Chevrolet Impala into the McConnells' car about 12:45 a.m. Sunday. Witnesses told police Jordan was speeding before the crash at Dr. Martin Luther King Street at 22nd Avenue North.
Officers found a 16-ounce can of Four Loko — a fruit-flavored, caffeinated malt drink that contains more than twice the percentage of alcohol as beer — in Jordan's car, they said. He also admitted drinking liquor mixed with Four Loko, according to the report.
Jordan's driving record shows he was involved in crashes in St. Petersburg in April 2008, when he was ticketed for improper backing, and on June 2, when he was cited for careless driving.
Jordan and his passenger, Mario Robinson, 20, were injured in Sunday's crash and remained hospitalized Monday. Both were expected to survive, police said. Jordan was arrested on four counts of DUI manslaughter, DUI causing serious bodily injury and possession of alcohol by a minor.
You could depend on "Roy"
Elroy "Roy" McConnell, an accountant and triathlete, was the kind of man who could be depended on for anything — help with finances, spiritual guidance or a good joke, family members said.
"I can't think of a person on this Earth who he hasn't helped," said his sister, Lorraine McConnell of St. Cloud. "He was my strength; my rock."
The McConnell men enjoyed a good laugh, held their close-knit family in high regard and had a strong faith in God, relatives said.
Lorraine McConnell, trying to make sense of the tragedy, recalled her brother and nephews as a group of "funny" men whose sense of humor was "contagious."
"They were just good people and to be taken all in one damn shot?" she said. "They just lived life to the max."
Lorraine McConnell said her brother's two oldest sons were from a previous marriage to Lisa Raybern of Orange County, who declined to comment Monday.
Roy and his wife, Amy Voelker-McConnell, had one son together, Kelly. Lorraine McConnell said Amy helped raise all three boys.
Sunday's tragedy occurred as the McConnell men and their wives and children were enjoying a family vacation at a rented beach house on the Gulf Coast for the weekend, partly to celebrate Kelly's birthday.
The men were having a guys' night at the movies in St. Petersburg while their wives and children stayed at the beach house. They kissed their wives — and in Kelly's case, his girlfriend — and headed off to a late movie while the women and children went to bed.
"These four men kissed their wives yesterday, left that house, and that was the last time they saw them," family spokesman Burlin Webster said.
The crash happened while the men were driving home from the movie.
All three McConnell boys graduated from University High School and were Christian athletes who played football, said their aunt, Cheryl McConnell.
Roy III was married with a 4-month-old son, Elroy McConnell IV. He worked for JCPenney.
Nathan McConnell, an electrician, was married with a 2-year-old daughter. The little girl has been "asking for Daddy," Webster said.
The McConnell wives were not available for comment Monday but are expected to make a public statement this morning.
Since word spread of the horrific accident , relatives and friends have paid tribute to the men on their Facebook pages, recalling fond memories and expressing condolences.
On Sunday, Patricia Voelker, mother of Amy Voelker-McConnell, wrote on Facebook that she was "without solace."
"My son-in-law, my three grandsons were killed by a speeding drunk driver in FL last night," she wrote. "These four wonderful, loving, generous, kind, handsome, intelligent men have left three widows, two children, a bereft girlfriend and a world of friends who grieve."
At the University of Central Florida, where Amy Voelker-McConnell oversees the audit department, medical students conducting a white-coat ceremony on the first day of classes in the new medical school Monday observed a moment of silence for the family.
Funeral arrangements had not been made Monday. Friends plan to set up a memorial fund that will help offset costs for the family. A portion will be donated to MADD, Webster said.
Red Huber of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Susan Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com or 407-540-5981. Bianca Prieto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5620.