WARREN - Savannah Jackson remembers walking into the father-daughter dance with her father Marcus Jackson Sr., how her little sister went with her, and how their dad took them to Burger King afterward.
Savannah's mother, Emily Cononico, remembers how excited Jackson was, dressed up in his suit, to take his daughters to their first-ever school dance at Lincoln K-8 School.
"He was very, very excited. He really, really enjoyed taking them to their first dance," Cononico, of Lake County, said. "He called them his little princesses."
Emily Cononico and her children talk about the late Marcus Jackson.
A few days later, on Feb. 27, 2011, Jackson was struck by a driver while walking along West Market Street. He died after being on life support for nine days.
One year later, Cononico, her and Jackson's eight children and stepchildren and about 15 other friends and family members gathered Sunday at Oakwood Cemetery to remember Jackson and to see the meticulously detailed gravestone placed there.
"He was my backbone," said Cononico, who has failing kidneys. "With all my health problems, he was always there, holding everything together."
The gravestone of Marcus Jackson Sr. has meticulously detailed engravings, including a picture of him and his fiancee Emily Cononico. Photo by Adam Ferrise
Cononico was Jackson's fiancee and partner of 18 years. She plans to buried next to him.
Everyone wore something purple, from sneakers to sweaters, because it was Jackson's favorite color, and recalled what made him special.
Cononico said she's comforted that Jackson's organs helped save five people's lives, including a heart-transplant patient. She said Jackson worked as long as 16-hour days at Polychem Dispersions in Middlefield as a mill worker.
Police have asked anyone with information in the Feb. 27, 2011, car accident that killed Marcus Jackson Sr., to please call Warren police Detective Mike Stabile at 330-841-2663.
A co-worker of Jackson's, Randy McAvoy said Jackson was a model husband, co-worker and friend. A tear ran from the corner of his eye as he talked about how he and Jackson made the drive from their then-Newton Falls homes to Middlefield.
He said they worked all day together, spent two hours in the car every day and met up often outside of work.
"He was always there," McAvoy said. "I had a brother that passed away years ago and he was right there for me. He literally was like another brother."
His children remembered different things about him. Marcus Jackson Jr., 13, recalled wrestling matches and playing Madden football video games with him. Majestic, 14, recalled how her dad loved hanging out with her and her siblings and that his specialty cuisine was making breakfast for dinner. They also remembered how excited he was to become a grandfather.
Jackson died one month before his first grandchild, Aaliyah, was born to his eldest stepdaughter, Mirah, 18.
"I didn't want to think about it too much because I didn't want to stress out too much at the end," of the pregnancy, Mirah said. "He would have liked her a lot. I know he would have. He was excited to be a grandpa."
Cononico said there is one major reason the family is unable to fully move on: The yearlong police investigation has turned up no charges.
Warren Detective Mike Stabile said Friday the case is ongoing but independent witnesses have been reluctant to come forward, which has stalled the investigation. He said police have a suspect in mind, but do not have enough evidence to charge him. He said the man was in the car with two others, but none of their stories matches up, leaving prosecutors with no hard evidence to charge the driver with.
"There's a problem with the three witnesses giving different accounts," Stabile said. "It's kind of a sticking point with the prosecutor's office. We need someone else to come forward, and we do believe there were more than just the three witnesses. It's frustrating."
Stabile also said investigators believe the driver struck Jackson accidentally.
Cononico said Jackson and her family deserve closure.
"In my opinion, it would put Marcus to rest," she said. "Aside from that, what kind of example is our judicial system setting for our youth and anyone that gets behind the wheel? That it's OK for someone to drink and drive and take someone's life? That it doesn't mean anything? I don't agree with that at all."
The death was the second tragedy that happened to the family. Jackson's brother, Marvin Chaney was gunned down in April 2009 by Eugene Henderson, who fired 28 rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle into a southeast side home. Also killed was 11-year-old Lloyd McCoy Jr. Henderson was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Eugene Cumberbatch, also convicted in the connection with the murder, is serving 38 years to life in prison.
After Jackson's death, Cononico said she fell into a tailspin. She spent the majority of her time at the police station and the library searching for ways to find justice, and when she wasn't there, she was at the cemetery.
"I moved us out of Trumbull County because I used to live on Charles Street and everyday we were coming here," she said. "Then I realized it wasn't healthy emotionally for me and the kids. Because I was spending so much time here, to the library to the police department, I wasn't focusing on being a mother and learning how to live again without Marcus."
The move to Lake County made a world of difference, she said. Cononico said she was able to get back on her feet and that the kids' grades dramatically improved.
She also said counseling sessions have helped.
"We're all in counseling," she said. "It's going to be a long process for us. It's just hard."
The stone, designed by Cononico, was made from imported marble, with a striking etching of Marcus Jackson and Cononico on the front, and Jackson's handprints on the back. Cononico said they made a mold of Jackson's hands while he was on life support at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, and were able to use that to engrave in the marble. A replica of Jackson's tattoo of a scroll with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is engraved on the back of the headstone.
The quote reads: "Press on and keep pressing. If you can't fly, run; If you can't run, walk; If you can't walk, crawl. By all means, keep pressing forward."