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Soldier hurt while helping victim in initial hit-and-run asks 2nd hit-and-run driver to surrender

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida was asking for the public's help to find two hit-and-run drivers. The crashes occurred about 2:20 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018.
Polk Sheriff

By KIMBERLY C. MOORE | The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla. | Published: August 11, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A U.S. Army private who was struck by a pickup as he was trying to help an injured woman Aug. 2  wants the person who hit him and ran over the woman, killing her, to turn themselves in.

"You didn't even attempt to make sure anybody was OK," 20-year-old Kalen Lawson said from his bed Friday as his mom, Tonya Lawson, looked on. "You just left. That's not what a human being is."

Lawson now has a rod and three screws in his left leg. Doctors told his mom his foot might not line up exactly with his knee anymore. And Lawson isn't sure what his lifelong dream of an Army career is going to hold for him. It could take up to a year of healing and physical therapy for him to be able to walk normally again. The 2016 Kathleen High School graduate had been on the track team and played safety on the football team. He also spent all four years at KHS in the Junior ROTC program.

Lawson was home on leave from Fort Hood, Texas, when he saw Kelli Marie Black get hit as she rode a scooter on Galloway Road at 2:23 a.m. A surveillance video from a store captured the first hit-and-run sequence.

Lawson and his childhood friend, Markell Grant, had stopped at a nearby gas station to get a drink and quickly jumped in their car and rode over to Black, 40, a Polk City mother of three and a grandmother. Within 20 seconds of the first hit-and-run, Grant stopped just behind where Black was lying in the road and put on his hazard lights.

"Before Kel even put the car in park or put his hazard lights on or anything, I was already out of the vehicle running up to Miss Black to make sure she was OK and I basically grabbed her and said, 'Ma'am, can you move, can you make a sound, can you do anything to let me know you're still alive, to let me know you're still here?' " Lawson recalled. "And as I was saying that, she was making like a groaning noise and she basically reached out for my hand, so I grabbed her hand with my left hand and I was like, 'Hold on ma'am, I'm fixing to call 911 and fixing to get you some help.' And she was, basically, the last thing she said to me was, 'Please, just don't leave me. Please, don't leave me here. Please, don't let go.'

"I was like, 'Ma'am, I'm not going to leave you here, I'm not going to let you go. I'm going to get you some help. I'm going to make sure you're going to be OK.' "

And that's when Lawson heard his friend and two more people repeatedly yelling "Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" to another vehicle as it approached the accident scene less than a minute after Black was hit the first time.

"And in that split second, all I seen was the second vehicle, all I could see was the second vehicle's headlights, and when I seen that I basically had to let her go and push off to try to get myself out of the way and I barely made it. I barely made it out of the way," Lawson said, adding that Grant was left traumatized after seeing him get hit and Black run over and killed.

"When he got hit, he twisted in the air and then he was on the ground," Grant said in a telephone interview. He added that he helped put Lawson in a truck and then ran to check on Black. "She responded to me, but she was in bad shape -- blood was all in her mouth and blood was in her nose. She couldn't talk but she opened her mouth twice. I could see in her eyes -- I could see her kind of fading away."

The suspected driver of the first vehicle, Corey Wesley Jones, 28, of Lakeland, turned himself in last week and has been charged with leaving the scene of a crash with serious bodily injury and reckless driving with serious bodily injury.

Investigators are asking for the public's help in identifying the driver of the second hit-and-run vehicle, believed to be a light-colored, possibly white, Ford F-150 pickup truck. It might have front end damage from hitting Lawson and undercarriage damage from hitting Black.

Lawson was in the hospital when a Polk County Sheriff's Office deputy came to check on him. Thinking Lawson was asleep, the deputy told his mother Black had died.

"He said, 'Oh no, oh no, oh no, she didn't make it,' " Tonya Lawson said. "He was more concerned about her than his leg."

Members of Black's family visited Lawson in the hospital, including her three daughters, her mother and her sisters. And Tonya Lawson attended Black's viewing before her funeral. She is proud of her son for stopping to help someone in need.

"Most kids would've been out there taking pictures of it," she said. "He was trying to help."

She has had to miss work as a manager at the Wendy's near the Mulberry Walmart to take care of her son, but she is grateful.

"I'm glad that I have my son -- it could've been worse," Tonya Lawson said. "I want them to catch this guy."

Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at kmoore@theledger.com

(c)2018 The Ledger (Lakeland, Fla.)
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Army Private Kalen Lawson
U.S. ARMY

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