Rotating through a loop of photographs during a slideshow, there was one picture that stuck out to anyone who knew 12-year-old Dezeray Jenkins.
She was standing next to a pumpkin with a frown on her face — something she never did. For some reason that day, Dezeray didn’t want to join her relatives and pose for a picture, and her family remembers it, along with other precious memories.
The slideshow was shown at Dezeray’s celebration of life picnic Dec. 23, at the Otis M. Andrews Sports Complex. The Tomlin middle-schooler died Dec. 17 from injuries she sustained after she was hit by a car.
“We want Dezeray to be remembered for her pretty smile,” her aunt, Dawn Fusko, said. “She was always smiling at you.”
Doreen Morgan, Dezeray’s guardian and grandmother, was taking a nap between her two jobs Dec. 9, when she got the call from police. Dezeray had been riding her bike with a neighborhood friend earlier in the day. They were walking in the middle of East Calhoun Street at about 7 p.m., when she was hit from behind by a 2008 Toyota Corolla. Nineteen-year-old Aaron Ogilvie was driving the car, with 18-year-old Devon Browning in the passenger seat.
According to the Plant City Police Department’s incident report, Ogilvie’s vision was impaired because of a glare. Dezeray’s family said police told them another car was driving in the opposite direction and that its headlights made it hard for Ogilvie to see the children walking in the middle of the street.
“It was like the perfect storm of events,” Ted Fusko, Dezeray’s uncle, said.
Drugs and alcohol were not factors in the crash. There have been no charges made, but the investigation is ongoing.
Neighbors rushed from houses to help Dezeray. She was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital and had a broken neck and pelvis and a fractured skull. For eight days, Dezeray remained on life support. The family waited to see if the pressure in her brain would lower. But on Dec. 17, doctors said she was gone.
Fusko stood behind the hospital by the river and talked with Morgan about Dezeray being an organ donor. At first, Morgan didn’t want Dezeray to be a donor. But, she changed her mind quickly.
“She’s trying to grasp what life is without her baby,” Fusko said. “She had to reach deep down and make this choice, instead of saying, ‘I’m done with this.’ I’m so proud of her. I’m so proud of Dezy.”
Dezeray donated five organs — her liver, kidneys, pancreas and heart.
“It makes us so happy,” Fusko said. “Happy that they (the recipients’ families) don’t have to go through what we did.”
IN LOVING MEMORY
Dezeray’s family described her as an outgoing, independent, strong-willed girl with a big heart. She was tall for her age and equally as mature.
Dezeray loved to play outside and was often barefoot. She couldn’t wait for her family’s monthly picnics and often beat everyone to the sports complex by riding her bike. Growing up with older brothers, Dezeray loved to play football and other sports and go fishing at the Sunshine Skyway. Her brother, Marcus Jenkins, said her death was especially hard on him, because they would take walks together through the neighborhood.
“She was always up for anything,” Fusko said. “We’d say, ‘Let’s play dodgeball,’ and she’d be right in the middle.”
But she wasn’t just a tomboy. Her aunt, Debbie Wood, said Dezeray also loved to dress up.
“She would wear a nice dress, but her hair would be wild, and she would be barefoot, of course,” Wood said, laughing.
Dezeray’s biological mother is Angela Cintron, but her grandmother, Morgan, had custody of her. They were especially close, and Dezeray liked to sleep with Morgan.
Dezeray also had two younger sisters, Tori and Danielle Fusko.
“Dezeray is an important link in our family, because she was the in-between kid,” Fusko said at Dezeray’s celebration. “I think she filled the role nicely. At our picnics, she was like a busy bumblebee, buzzing everywhere. You never knew if she was in the sandbox with the babies, playing tackle football with the big boys or visiting at the ‘old fogey’s table.’ That’s where I sit ... the old fogey’s table. (She’d) buzz from one group to the next, giving hugs to everyone. I’ve heard she was also fond of giving smacks to the back of the head.”
Weeks later, the pain is still intense. Through tears, Fusko spoke from the end of the table, remembering her young niece.
“It’s just like a huge hole has been blown through our family,” she said. “Just losing one person — especially around Christmastime.”
Choking back tears, Fusko recounted a trip to the Suwannee River Music Festival. Dezeray, then 8 years old, wanted to dance with the barefoot women by the stage, but she was too shy. So Fusko asked the women if Dezeray could join them, and they welcomed her with open arms.
“She just wanted to be free all the time,” Fusko said.
“That would have been Dezeray,” Wood said. “Just a free spirit, dancing in the dirt, barefoot.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected].