The Wilson Times

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 7:05 PM

Crash kills mother, son; alcohol suspected

By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor

ELM CITY — Her big sister and 3-year-old nephew didn’t deserve to die at the hands of a drunken driver, Latasia Cooper said.

Relatives and friends gathered Tuesday afternoon to comfort Lashunaqa Ilesa Cooper’s family after the 21-year-old and her son, 3-year-old Jiquel Copeland, were killed in a head-on crash Monday night outside Rocky Mount.

"We didn’t believe it would happen to a family like us,” said Latasia, who is 15. "We don’t believe we deserve stuff like that. It was like something you see on TV.”

Lashunaqa Cooper of 521 Bahma Circle was driving north on Church Street/U.S. 301 Business in a 1991 Honda sedan when an oncoming 2001 GMC pickup truck crossed the center line and smashed into Cooper’s car around 9:30 p.m. Monday, according to the N.C. Highway Patrol.

State troopers believe the driver, 25-year-old Stacey Deans of 10827 Camp Charles Road southwest of Bailey, was impaired, said Mary Collins of the Highway Patrol station in Rocky Mount.

Collins said troopers are awaiting results of a blood-alcohol test and charges in the crash are pending. Troopers met with Nash County prosecutors Tuesday afternoon to review the evidence, she said.

Latasia said her sister had finished her first day of work at the new Domino’s Pizza in Sharpsburg and had picked up Jiquel. They were on the way to an uncle’s house in Rocky Mount when the pickup truck crashed into their car.

"My sister was a great person,” Latasia said. "You had to figure her out, but she was a good person. She was trying to make it in life.”

Lashunaqa’s mother, Lawanda Cooper Alston, said her daughter had a unique bond with Jiquel.

"She loved to get out, and she never traveled without her baby,” Alston said. "They were like brother and sister instead of mother and son. That’s how close they were.”

The eldest of four children, Lashunaqa Cooper graduated from Rocky Mount High in 2011, her sister said. The young mother wanted to become a cosmetologist or go into a nursing field. Relatives remembered her as strong and independent.

"She was unique,” said aunt Takina Cooper. "She was different. She stood out from everyone else. She was her own leader.”

Latasia said her sister loved her family, but she valued her privacy and independence.

"We were close, but she was distant from everybody,” Latasia said. "You had to figure her out. She didn’t like everybody to know too much about her.”

Latasia said three state troopers and a pastor came to her house to notify the family of her sister’s death around midnight.

"It’s been hard, especially after we first found out,” Latasia said. "She was an outstanding person.”

Collins said the crash happened about two miles south of Rocky Mount. The speed limit on U.S. 301 Business is 45 mph, and an estimate of Deans’s speed was not immediately available.

If troopers prove that Deans was impaired at the time of the wreck, Latasia said he should face a severe punishment for taking two innocent lives.

"I do think they should go to jail or get the death penalty,” she said. "It makes me feel empty. I just don’t know.”

Alston said she wouldn’t want Deans to face the death penalty, but she believes he deserves life in prison.

"I’m going to see that justice is served,” she said. "I don’t want death, but I want him to spend his every last day in prison. I don’t want him to see light. What he did to me was unthinkable. I can never get it back.”

Alston said she doesn’t have the words to describe the grief a parent feels after losing a child and grandchild. She hopes her daughter’s death will serve as a warning for those thinking about driving home after consuming alcohol.

"This stops people’s lives when something like this happens,” she said. "Please don’t drink and drive. There’s happiness that you can never get back when it leads to a death.” | 265-7821

©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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