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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. – “She lived life to the fullest; she loved deeply; she sang loudly.”
That’s what Lily Kate’s mom will remember about her little girl, who would have been 10 on Aug. 30. It’s no wonder that she named her daughter Cecilia Kathryn "Lily Kate" Powell, after the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia.
“So many of our friends' favorite memories of her is in church, you could hear her above everybody else,” her mom, Jennifer Powell softly chuckles.
But that light-hearted personality and contagious smile she knew were abruptly taken from her last week when a pick-up truck slammed into the family’s minivan on GA 316, near Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County, Ga.
“All of a sudden, I felt like the car was crashing into me,” Jennifer remembered.
She was driving the family’s silver Dodge Caravan minivan, and Lily Kate was in the backseat reading a book--one of her favorite pastimes--when the driver of a gray Dodge truck, pulling a flat-bed trailer, rear-ended them.
“I didn’t hear Lily Kate scream… I believe that she died instantly.”
Jennifer and her family--her husband, two sons and daughter--had moved to Lawrenceville, Ga., from Tennessee in July.
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A tight-knit family, her three children were the best of friends—and Lily Kate’s two little brothers adored her.
“Not only was she so smart and talented and beautiful, but also she was loving and kind. She had a very, very strong faith. Because of her strong faith, it made her love,” her mom said.
Jennifer, the director of Children and Family Ministry at Kingswood United Methodist, had just dropped off her 3-year-old son at daycare and her 5-year-old son at school. Lily Kate stayed home from school with a sore throat, so she toted her with her to work that morning.
She was strapped into the backseat.
Four vehicles, according to the accident report, were traveling westbound on GA 316.
Andrew Elsberry, of Temple, Ga., stated that he was traveling west in the lane next to the Peach Pass lane when his GPS advised him of the heavy traffic ahead on I-85. He was rerouted and needed to take the next exit at Boggs Road. He looked back over his shoulder, he told police, to change lanes. Just then the Powells’ minivan, in front of him, was stopping in the traffic congestion. He said that he wasn’t able to stop in time before hitting them.
He stated that he rushed out of his vehicle to assist Jennifer and Lily Kate until the ambulance arrived.
Elsberry had a trailer, and the weight of the trailer pushed him forward into the back of their car, Jennifer said.
Lily Kate was crushed from behind, her seatbelt causing her internal injuries. She was transported to Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville.
Two other vehicles were involved in the collision; both of those drivers declined medical treatment.
Elsberry was arrested on the scene and taken to the Gwinnett County Jail. He charged with second-degree vehicular homicide.
Lily Kate was pronounced dead at 10:33 a.m., at the hospital.
But Jennifer isn’t harboring what could be considered understandably hard feelings toward Elsberry, who, she said, also is married, with a young child.
“He actually helped carry Lily to the ambulance.... I saw him sitting next to his truck with his head in his hands. And, of course, our pain is infinite because we miss our baby, but I can’t imagine his pain. So, we send our love and prayers to them. And that’s what Lily would want,” Jennifer said. "And so when you pray for us--which we need prayers, too, our sons need prayers and we need prayers as a couple--please pray for him, too,"
She and her husband, Lily Kate's father, Timothy Powell, held hands as they spoke, fighting back tears, and smiling as they spoke of Lily Kate--and becoming her voice as they spoke of Elsberry.
“People have made him [Elsberry] out to be a monster, but it was an accident. He knows I’ve forgiven him, but he’s still heartbroken. I have no anger towards that family, in fact I feel bad for them.... I know with every part of my being she would want me to forgive him. And that’s her legacy—if anything else, that we need to forgive each other. And especially in Atlanta where traffic is so crazy. And we all get distracted. And I have no anger towards him.... There's no doubt in my mind it was an accident."”
For a little girl whose life was full of vivid imagination, it’s no surprise that Lily Kate’s favorite color was "rainbow."
She loved reading, playing the piano and dancing. Lots of dancing.
“She danced through life,” Jennifer said. Even when she wasn’t dancing for class, she would twirl around the house. “She was so joyful.”
Lily Kate’s funeral was Saturday. Now her parents want everyone to know of her joyous personality, and their infinite pain--and her spirit of forgiveness.
“I’m the adult, but her maturity was so strong, that even though I’m the adult, I want to learn how to live like she did. Because of that, I knew right away that I had to forgive the driver. She would want that,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer wrote her oldest child’s eulogy:
“Cecilia Kathryn "Lily Kate" Powell, age 9, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, passed away on August 17, 2017. Lily Kate lived life to the absolute fullest. She loved others deeply and made friends easily. She was beautiful, smart, and creative but most importantly, she loved God and spread that light to others. She had an amazing and vivid imagination, loved to read constantly, played piano, performed theater, and was so fun loving. She danced through life. She loved school and she loved her friends. Her best friends were her two little brothers, Danny and Patrick. Her parents adore and love her with all of their beings. She is a beautiful light and is, no doubt, dancing and singing in Heaven.”
There is a memorial fund, for the The Cecilia "Lily Kate" Powell Musical Commission Project.
The Cecilia "Lily Kate" Memorial Fund was established to fund the creation of a musical work in her memory. Lily's parents were founding members of The Cecilia Ensemble, a chorus based out of Augusta, Ga.