Gail Ward said she was attending a friend’s funeral service when she found out Friday about a crash that took the lives of her daughter and granddaughter. Now, she’s preparing for their funeral.
Ward’s daughter, Tamika Thornton, was 32, and her granddaughter was 12. The two died not long after their vehicle was struck by an oncoming car at St. Clair Avenue and 79th Street on Friday afternoon.
An accident-reconstruction team with Illinois State Police was still investigating the crash as of Tuesday, according to a police spokesman.
Thornton, who lived with her mother in East St. Louis, had been on her way to pick up her two daughters from school, an 11-year-old and a 4-year-old. Illinois State Police said Thornton was driving a blue 1994 Chevrolet Suburban. One of Thornton’s other daughters, 12-year-old C’Mia Thomas, was a passenger in the sport utility vehicle. Ward said she had been at a funeral service for a woman she knew from church when she found out about the crash.
“That’s why I was so upset because she was on her way to pick her girls up from school,” Ward said. “I did not know if all of them were in the truck, but she was actually on her way to pick the baby girl up from school.”
At the time, Ward said she didn’t know where to find Thornton and the young girl. The two had been taken to separate hospitals. Ward found out later that afternoon that Thornton died at Saint Louis University Hospital, and the 12-year-old girl died at Touchette Hospital in Centreville.
“It was just so much confusion,” Ward said. “We didn’t even know that my grandbaby had passed. We thought it was my daughter. We thought my grandbaby was still fighting. But then we found out that we lost them both.”
Family members and friends held a candlelight vigil for Thornton and her daughter, C’Mia, at the crash site Sunday night. Ward said between 150 to 200 people came in honor of the crash victims. A separate vigil was also held in Chicago, where Thornton had several friends, Ward said.
“I had no idea how many people she knew until the vigil that we had,” Ward said. “I had no idea that they were doing that in Chicago until they posted it on her page. I didn’t know any of that. All of these people reached out to my family and I appreciate it so much. They really touched me.”
An online fund set up to help cover funeral expenses had raised more than $7,400 by Tuesday morning. A visitation was set from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in East St. Louis, and funeral services were scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday. Teat Chapel Funeral Home in Fairview Heights was handling the arrangements.
Illinois State Police said Thornton’s Suburban was struck by a maroon 2011 Chevrolet Impala driven by a 33-year-old man. The man was seriously injured in the crash. Police said he was expected to survive, but his condition was unknown as of Tuesday morning.
Trooper Calvin Dye Jr., a spokesman for State Police, said the man’s identity would not be released due to the pending investigation. Once complete, police said, all documents and evidence from the crash would be turned over to the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office. Dye said it could take weeks for the reconstruction study to be finished.
When Ward saw her daughter’s mangled SUV in the aftermath of the crash, it almost seemed unrecognizable. Police had said Thornton and C’Mia were thrown from the Suburban in the crash. Police said the vehicle was damaged so badly that they couldn’t tell whether they were wearing seat belts. Ward, while making arrangements for her daughter and grandchild Monday, said she was waiting to learn more from the police investigation. She said she wants to see justice for her “babies.”
“It’s difficult, it’s really difficult, but we’re doing pretty good,” Ward said. “We’ve got each other. We’re holding on to each other really tight.”