That their lives would intersect in such a devastating way was complete chance, a mix of bad driving, worse choices and horrific timing.
This past Memorial Day, 2-year-old Devon Morris was in the back seat of a Buick driven by a woman he didn’t know. That woman, Mar’keshia Devers, 18, was headed north on Fontenelle Boulevard in northeast Omaha.
Twenty-five-year-old Davionne Collier was in the driver’s seat of his 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer, headed west on Curtis Avenue.
Both Collier and Devers were going 39 mph, according to data recorded by a device attached to their air bags. That’s well above the speed limit of 25 mph.
Witnesses said Collier tried to beat a red light. Another witness said Devers appeared to time her acceleration to a green light, according to court accounts Wednesday.
The resulting crash left Devon dead, his 5-year-old brother, Stephen Russell, injured and their mother reeling.
Wednesday, Devon’s mother, Ocie Mills, and Collier intersected in a courtroom. Sitting 5 feet apart, Mills cried. Collier nodded.
Mills, 25, passionately questioned how he could have left the scene, left her 2-year-old to die. Collier turned to her and apologized.
Mills forgave. Collier nodded, choking back his emotions.
“I’m not blaming just you,” Mills said, between tears. “I can’t blame just you. ... Between you and (Devers), I feel like this all could have been avoided.”
On that, Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty agreed. He noted that Collier, after stopping briefly, took off from the scene. His attorney, Glenn Shapiro, said Collier left because he was wanted on a traffic-offense-related warrant out of Lancaster County. He did so after surveying that there were adults on scene to help, Shapiro said.
The judge and prosecutor Ryan Lindberg said they weren’t sure if it was because of the warrant or because Collier was drunk or on drugs.
Either way, Collier’s behavior didn’t meet even “basic human decency,” Lindberg said.
Dougherty sentenced Collier to two years in prison on his convictions of leaving the scene of a deadly wreck and misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide. Under state law, which cuts most sentences in half, he will serve a year in prison.
“You were there and you chose to leave,” Dougherty said. “What occurred here was just horrifying.”
In some ways, the events of that day were mystifying.
Mills had gone to work at Marriott that afternoon, leaving her two boys with a baby sitter. The baby sitter had planned to take the kids down the street to the park but had no plans to drive them anywhere.
Unbeknownst to Mills, plans changed. The baby sitter and Devers apparently decided to take the kids to a pool party. The baby sitter got into the Buick driven by Devers. They placed Mills’ boys in the back seat.
Police say the boys were unrestrained. But doctors later told Mills they believed, based on their injuries, that her boys were wearing ill-fitting, adult seat belts in the back of the Buick.
Either way, the boys weren’t in car seats — a fact that tears Mills apart. The 25-year-old Omaha woman said she easily would have made arrangements for her mom or a relative to bring car seats to them.
Instead, as she worked, her phone started buzzing. Then buzzing some more.
She rushed out to the worst news possible. Her son Stephen would survive with a broken leg and hip. But Devon had suffered traumatic head injuries. There was nothing doctors could do.
“I sat in the hospital and held my son for two hours until he died,” she said, turning to Collier. “How would you feel if that was your son?”
Collier nodded repeatedly as Mills spilled her grief.
“I forgive you, but I just want you to take responsibility for your part,” she pleaded with him. “And just be genuine about it.”
Collier, who faced up to four years in prison, had little record, beyond traffic offenses. However, Dougherty took him to task for those offenses. He noted that while the public often downplays traffic infractions, such carelessness can lead to a tragedy just like this.
At his turn to talk, Collier pivoted in the defendant’s chair and looked directly at Mills.
“I just want you to know how sorry I am,” Collier said. “I have sons. And I don’t want anyone to go through this.
“I’m sorry. From the deepest parts of my heart, I’m sorry.”
Outside court, Mills said she believed that Collier was truly contrite. However, she questioned why Devers wasn’t charged. Lindberg said the answer is simple: Collier caused the wreck; Devers didn’t. She had the green light, even if she was speeding and didn’t properly restrain the kids.
As for Collier, Mills said, she truly forgives him. She has to.
“My heart can’t heal if I don’t forgive,” she said.
Plus, her oldest son Stephen needs her. And so does the girl she gave birth to, four months after Devon’s death.
Mills said she’ll make sure her daughter, 6 months old, gets to know the memory of her brother, the almost-3-year-old who was smart and sweet and loved to give out hugs.
The girl, who cooed and smiled, wearing a pink onesie in her purple car seat Wednesday, will have no choice.
“I named her after him,” Mills said. “D-e-v-o-n-n-e.”