NEWTON, N.C. – A man who police say was killed by a stranded driver he was trying to help during heavy snow went out each winter storm to rescue motorists stuck in ditches, his sister said Monday.
Jefferson Heavner was shot to death Friday in western North Carolina. His sister, Jessica Heavner, said the tradition of helping during snowstorms was started by their father, who died 13 years ago in a car crash.
"We always had some type of four-wheel drive vehicle, and we would go out and look for people who had spun out in the ditches," she said, recalling snowstorms when she was growing up. "It was something we always did to help out people in the community."
She said they thought of their father in recent years each time they went out for what they considered both fulfilling work and "playing in the snow." People always thanked them profusely, but her brother never accepted money. On Monday, she recalled going out with him during a snowstorm in 2015.
"The last snowstorm we had, he called and said, 'I've got my four-wheel drive! You want to come along?' We went out for two solid days pulling people out of ditches," she said.
Jessica Heavner said her 26-year-old brother was between the gunman and friends when he was shot, and one credits him with saving her life. The woman is the girlfriend of her brother's best friend and recently found out she was pregnant.
"He took a bullet when it could have been someone else," said Jessica Heavner, who has talked to investigators and witnesses about what happened. She was not there when he was shot; he had called her to see if she wanted to go, but she was busy.
The suspect, Marvin Jacob Lee, appeared in court Monday on a murder charge. His attorney's name wasn't immediately clear because the clerk's office said his file wasn't available.
Lee, 27, spun out and got stuck on the side of the road in the snow, Sheriff Coy Reid said. The people trying to help him could tell he was intoxicated and decided to call the authorities instead of pushing his car out, Reid said.
Lee became belligerent, started firing and knocked Heavner down with a bullet before standing over the victim and firing several more shots while he was on the ground, the sheriff said.
Jessica Heavner, who's 29, said her brother was raising an infant son as a single father and loved playing in the yard with the boy.
"He became a child when he was around his own child," she said.
Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina.