They were two peas in a pod growing up together, those familiar with them say – but now, one is gone at 22 years old, and her 2-year-old son is fighting for his life.
Chat and Delanea Heflin said it has been such a whirlwind since their daughter, Hailee Heflin, lost her life in a car wreck on Nov. 3 that it’s hard to process all their thoughts.
But they know these things – they miss their daughter terribly, they have faith in God and are hoping for a miracle with their grandson, they appreciate all the support and prayers they’ve received, and they place no blame on the 19-year-old who the Ohio State Highway Patrol says caused the accident.
“I feel sorry for him. It must be horrible for him and his family,” Chat said. “That boy didn’t mean to do nothing. I hope he knows what he did – I hope he does good for those two people. He didn’t mean to, it was just a horrible accident.”
Hailee had worked all night at Holtfield Station in Hillsboro. Then she went and picked up her son, Wesley McGrew, and her sister, Shayla Heflin, so she could drive her to work in Wilmington. Hailee was on her way home and had stopped in traffic to turn left. Her vehicle was rear-ended, forcing it into the path of a van that struck Hailee’s small car head-on. Hailee was pronounced dead at the scene. Wesley is in a coma at Children’s Hospital in Dayton.
Chat and Delanea have been there every day.
“This week should have been about (Hailee), but it’s Wes. We don’t get to mourn her like you should. It just doesn’t seem right,” Chat said Thursday.
Hospital bills and other expenses will come quick. To help, family members and friends are organizing a fundraiser that will be held from 4:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Highland County AmVets Post, 11541 N. Shore Drive. Angie Hall has set up a GoFundMe account.
Chat said that right now he just hopes they raise enough money to pay off funeral home expenses.
A 2013 Hillsboro High School graduate, Hailee went through some rough times in her earlier years, her family said. But once she had Wesley, her life changed.
“She dedicated her whole life to him,” Delanea said. “She wasn’t a partier. She just dedicated her life to work and her kid, and she loved it. They were like two peas in a pod.”
Hailee liked Netflix, watching videos on Facebook, her friends, and mostly taking videos of Wesley.
“He was literally her life. I think her social life was third shift at Holtfield,” Chat said.
Her friends at Holtfield thought a lot of Hailee. In fact, five of her third-shift workmates – Clara Young, Jacqueline Burnett, Dominica Gaskill, Shaylah Bennett and Curtis Sneed – took time to write letters about Hailee to The Times-Gazette this week. They talked about how much fun Hailee was to work with; how proud she was to be Wesley’s mother; how her laugh was contagious; what a great worker she was; how she had a sassy attitude, but always wore a smile; and how she would tell them what she thought, even if they didn’t like it, but how they could never stay mad at her because she did it out of love.
“Wesley was always her first priority. She would never do anything that wasn’t in his best interest,” Shaylah wrote. “He never wanted for anything when she was there. The love they shared is one that you can only read about…”
Wesley is in a coma with a deep brain stem injury. Chat said doctors told the family that he has severe brain damage. According to Chat, when Wesley, who will turn 3 on Christmas Eve, first arrived at the hospital his brain injury was rated 10 on scale of one to 10, with 10 being the worst. But he said that by Thursday Wesley had been upgraded to three.
“They were really amazed at his fast progress,” Chat said. “They said it could be weeks, months, they just don’t know.”
But there are good signs. If Wesley is pinched, he flexes away from the feeling. His breathing tube was removed quickly. Chat said he growls at the nurses, but what they’re waiting on now is for him to make specific movements.
Wesley is a smart kid, Delanea said. He was Spiderman when he went trick or treating with his mom. But his favorite thing is construction vehicles. “He can tell you every construction vehicle there is,” Delanea said. He also likes to watch TV, sing, and play hide and seek.
“At work they have Spiderman and Sponge Bob popsicles, and Hailee brought a popsicle home every morning,” Delanea said. “When he woke up she would say, ‘Your popsicle is in there,’ they’d put it in a bowl, and then they’d share time together.”
If Hailee could tell someone what she wanted for her son in life, Chat said it would be this: “Be happy. Like every parent, she’d want him to go college and be something. She wanted him to enjoy life.”
Hailee and her sister, Shayla, shared a room together until Hailee was 12. They lived together most of their adult lives, and Shayla was the one who watched Wesley the most while his mom was at work.
This is what Shayla wrote to The Times-Gazette this week about her sister: “She was an exceptional person. She would stand up for her loved ones, even when they were wrong. She would also call you an idiot and hug you while she was doing it. Wesley was her highest priority. In every choice she made, he was the deciding factor. She was unbelievably charming and could make a stranger feel like a friend in minutes. She was loyal and loved fiercely. She was a force to be reckoned with if you hurt someone she cared about. Her son, Wesley, like his mother, is wild and crazy, but the sweetest. The smile on his face melts you. He loves to sing and kick things. He is smart and sensitive. He will give hugs if he senses you are having a bad day. He would climb on my lap and I would ruffle his curls and life just seemed to get instantly better. To see him lying in a hospital bed, wondering if I will ever see that smile again, has been devastating. To think he may never be that same little boy that I adore is something I am not even able to process yet. My loss is beyond words and tears and screams. I will never be able to have huge fights or fits of laughter with Hailee again. It breaks my heart. Helping her raise Wesley is the best gift I was ever given…”
Hailee’s cousin, Cassie Wilkin, and Chat’s sister, Brandi Churnetski, wrote similar thoughts in letters sent to The Times-Gazette.
“The love and support the public has given has been amazing and unbelievable. We are taking all the donated money and proceeds from the benefit to pay for funeral costs and the long-term care of Wesley. We cannot thank everyone enough for the love and support we have received,” Brandi wrote.
Chat said his daughter was just getting happy. He said that she advanced quickly at Holtfield Station in the year-plus that she worked there.
“She was just starting to find herself, her stride,” Chat said. “She took her lumps. At 22 you don’t know what you’re doing, but life was looking up for her.”
“We love her. We love her so much. She was good,” Hailee’s mom said. “She’ll be missed. She’ll always be in our hearts. And we’ll ways make sure her son knows who his mommy is.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]