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Community rallies to support families of boy killed, friend injured by truck in New Castle

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Octavius Stone, 9, and Emil Velez, 7, were playing at the top of the concrete steps when a truck driven by Virgil Coonfare left the road and swerved into the children in New Castle, Sunday. Octavius was killed, while Emil was injured. The brown teddy bear was left in memory of Octavius by his first-grade teacher, while the red teddy bear was left by neighbors. The railing on the right of the steps was snapped off. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Maram Mason, an employee at the Fast Check Food Mart, holds a collection jar, Tuesday, November 27th, 2012, for Octavius Stone, the nine-year-old boy killed on Sunday in New Castle. A letter written by a family member asks for help in memory of the little boy. 'We feel so bad. We feel so sorry. His mother came in today and looked terrible. She was holding his (Octavius') pillow. I was crying, I couldn't take it,' said Mason.

As Chanet Jones wrapped her son's fleece blanket around her on Tuesday, she sobbed in gratitude to the community she said has rallied around her following his death.

But she said she cannot bear to continue living in the home where a driver killed her second-grade boy as he played outside with a friend.

“I can't stay here and look at where my baby died,” Jones said while standing on Winslow Street near the steps where New Castle police say Virgil Coonfare, 67, of New Castle fatally struck her son, Octavius Stone, 7, with his truck and hit another boy, Emil “Ozzy” Velez, 9, on Sunday afternoon. “I need help. I just want to send him out right.”

Doctors released Emil from Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville on Monday and he was recovering at the Winslow Street home of his grandmother, Barbara Brown.

Neighbors canvassed the street, collecting close to $300 to split between Octavius' and Emil's families. Teddy bears sat on the steps of Jones' home and the steps where the truck hit the children. Employees at the Fast Check Food Mart a few blocks away put out a collection jar for the family. A handwritten note on the jar describes Octavius as a “high spirited, wonderful boy,” who loved “God, superheroes, friends and family.”

“They need a lot of help,” said Maram Mason, an employee at the store. “We feel so sorry for the family. The mother came in today — she was holding his pillow. I was crying, I couldn't take it.”

Octavius was a student at Thaddeus Stevens Primary School, Principal Debra DeBlasio said. A team of counselors spoke to students in his class and were available to help students throughout the day, she said.

“He was a joy in this school,” DeBlasio said. “One girl said he was just a good boy. Another said he had a pretty laugh. Those are the things second-graders said.”

Parents began contacting the school on Tuesday to ask about sending donations. DeBlasio planned to send a letter home with students with information.

Kris Stone, Octavius' father, said the family created the Octavius Stone Memorial Fund through PNC bank for anyone who would like to help with the funeral expenses.

“I'm emotionally a wreck,” Stone said. “I'm trying to hold it together, but I can't.”

Police charged Coonfare with homicide by vehicle while under the influence, aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence and driving under the influence. Attorney David Acker, who is representing Coonfare, did not return calls for comment.

Neighbors said Coonfare worked as a truck driver and would come and go from the house on Beckford Street he shared with his wife, son and grandchildren. A woman at the home declined comment.

“He wasn't friendly, but he wasn't unfriendly,” said Gertrude Blight, 81, who lives near the Coonfare home. Her great-grandson was inside the Winslow home at the time of the crash. “All I've been doing is praying. Thank God my little guy was in the house. It's so aggravating to me that the kids can't play in their yard. I have no sympathy for the man.”

Police said Coonfare was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash. He was wearing one shoe when officers arrived at the scene.

“(Anytime you drive under the influence,) you know what your actions can cause,” said Lelia Clark, Octavius' aunt. “In this case, it was devastation. No time is long enough for this.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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