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Trip to market ends in tragedy

The Baltimore Sun

Having earned money from doing chores for her grandmother, 10-year-old Kianna Johnson set out from her West Fairmount Avenue home Thursday afternoon for the nearby market with its yellow awning and oversized red lettering where they sold the Popsicles she loved.

The two-block stroll along neighboring West Baltimore Street, which she had taken many times, typically took her through the glass doors of the Economy Market and Carry-Out, where she would make a swift left past the pastries and potato chips. Just beyond the soda case, the petite girl with the flawless pearly-white smile would stop and peer through the sliding glass top of the store's freezer case. Here, she would find her favorite treat: the jumbo Popsicle.

The trip turned deadly, though, on Thursday when an unidentified driver heading west on Baltimore Street passed a car that stopped at North Stricker Street and struck Kianna as she was crossing Baltimore Street. She was thrown into a curb about 75 feet away, family members said yesterday.

She was pronounced dead at 3:02 p.m. Friday.

"Her grandmother and three siblings were at home and heard the sirens," said Connie Reynolds, the girl's cousin, who traveled from Albany, N.Y., to help with funeral arrangements. "They didn't imagine it was her."

About 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, police arrived at the house of Diana Johnson, Kianna's grandmother, who lives in the 1500 block of W. Fairmount Ave., where Kianna also resided with three siblings: twin brother Kenon; sister Ebony, 13; and another brother, Deante, 11, Reynolds said.

Workers at a family-owned seafood restaurant at the intersection said yesterday that the driver paused and then sped away in the direction of Gilmor Street. Other drivers pursued the fleeing car that police have described as a green station wagon, possibly a Mercury Sable.

No suspects have been identified, police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe said late yesterday afternoon.

Miisha Hamlett, 27, whose father, Barry Nelson, owns the Something Fishee seafood restaurant at Baltimore and Stricker streets, said she didn't see the accident but heard the resulting commotion and joined others who ran to Kianna's aid. Certified to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Hamlett said she had hoped she could help the girl.

"But she was looking straight into the sky at the sun, she had no movement and she was really pale," Hamlett, the restaurant's assistant manager, said of the slender girl described by family as about 4 feet, 8 inches tall and about 75 pounds.

Karen Barnes, who is Hamlett's aunt and a cook at the restaurant, said she was sitting at an outdoor table near the restaurant's front door but didn't see the accident because it happened so fast.

"I heard a loud boom, but it sounded like a car hitting another car, not a person," said Barnes, who added that drivers routinely exceed the posted speed limit of 25 mph along the thoroughfare.

Reynolds - a nurse who specializes in rehabilitating patients who are recovering from critical head injuries in the pediatric intensive care unit of an Albany hospital - described Kianna's injury as "a massive and severe head trauma."

"It was a closed-head wound," Reynolds said. "She had no swelling, no bruising, no brain waves. It's likely she died on impact. She probably never even knew what hit her."

Funeral arrangements had not been set late yesterday, the family said.

Along with Deante and Kenon, Kianna would have started fifth-grade in the fall at Franklin Square Elementary School. Ebony, a rising seventh-grader, attends Booker T. Washington Middle School, Reynolds said.

Johnson, 60, was raising the children after gaining guardianship of them eight years ago from their mother, 38-year-old Taya Johnson of Orlando, Fla., Reynolds said.

Kianna and her siblings moved to Baltimore three years ago with Diana Johnson, who spent 20 years working as a secretary in the trauma unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center, Reynolds said.

Diana Johnson and the children relocated to Baltimore to be closer to her daughters Sonja Chavis and Andrea Walker, both of Baltimore, after she suffered a stroke in 2004, the family said.

In the spring of 2006, Diana Johnson and the children moved to the rowhouse on a quiet stretch of Fairmount Avenue where the family would have more space, Chavis said.

"Kianna had a troubled beginning, but we were trying to bring some normalcy to her life," Chavis said. "She was sweet and such a hard worker."

Chavis and Reynolds recalled that Kianna eagerly pitched in around the house, folding laundry, cleaning her room and bringing in groceries for her grandmother.

"Whenever I visited, she would ask, "What can I do to earn money? Can I carry your bags?' " Reynolds said.

Chavis added, "She was always willing to help out."

Kianna, who had a bright disposition, enjoyed drawing and writing stories, Chavis and Reynolds recalled.

"She loved to read," Reynolds said.

Usually, Kianna would walk with her three siblings to get ice cream and other treats from the market on Baltimore Street. Thursday, however, she walked alone because the others already had ice cream.

Though the children were allowed to see Kianna on Friday after she was pronounced dead at the hospital, Chavis said that the girl's twin brother, Kenon, doesn't seem to realize she has died.

"He keeps asking, 'How long is she going to be there' and 'When is she coming home?'" Chavis said. "He wants to know when can he call her."

Early yesterday, restaurant owner Barry Nelson placed bricks around a bed of mulch at the bottom of the sidewalk tree nearest the spot where Kianna's body came to rest. He tied teddy bears and balloons with messages of "We will miss you" to the tree's trunk. Someone else - no one seems to know who - planted purple, yellow and pink flowers.

As they stood near the makeshift memorial, family members said they shudder as they contemplate what might have happened had all four siblings been walking together.

Also surviving Kianna are two other siblings - Eric Johnson, 23, of Albany, and Marquise Reid, 16, of Orlando.

Charles Ford, owner of Ford's Express furniture store in the 1400 block of West Baltimore St., said yesterday that he and Barry Nelson are hoping to enlist other area merchants to join them in creating a reward fund. Police are asking anyone with information to call them at 410-396-2606.

"This is going to be a coordinated effort," Ford said. "We have to catch them."

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