Tragedies Crashes
Jayanna Powell Brian Hickey/PhillyVoice

Ayeshia Poole and James Powell hold a sign with a photo of their daughter Jayanna, who was killed in a still-unsolved hit-and-run in West Philadelphia on November 18, 2016.

November 30, 2016

UPDATE: Police ID man charged in hit-and-run death of West Philly girl

Parents recall young victim's life, shed tears over her loss

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Paul Woodlyn

Update: Philadelphia Police announced Thursday morning that they'd arrested 24-year-old Paul Woodlyn, who lives several blocks from the hit-and-run scene, in connection with Jayanna Powell's death.

Powell, 8, was struck near 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue in West Philly around 3:15 p.m. on Nov. 25. Shortly after, she was pronounced dead at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Police said Woodlyn allegedly was driving the vehicle that struck Powell, and he allegedly fled the scene in the car after the crash.

He is charged with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter and other offenses after a tip led investigators to A&P Auto Body shop in Frazer, Chester County on Wednesday.


Jayanna Powell already knew what she wanted for Christmas.

The second grader at Lewis C. Cassidy elementary school, known to family and friends as “Jay Jay,” was way into the movie “Frozen,” so it was only natural that she’d want the talking/singing Elsa doll.

Her parents Ayeshia Poole and James Powell smiled at those memories inside Powell's home on North 57th Street on Wednesday, but that happiness was short-lived. The reality of the situation quickly returned.

“We’re going to the cemetery on Christmas morning and we’ll open presents with her,” Ayeshia said. “She’ll still get that Elsa doll.”

Ayeshia and James had spent the earlier part of the week mourning at Jayanna’s funeral and reaching for the public’s help at a press conference.

The reward for information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver responsible for her death was increased Tuesday to a headline-grabbing $45,000.

Late Wednesday night, Lt. John Stanford announced that an arrest has been made. A 24-year-old man was taken into custody and has been charged in connection with the crime, said at the time. The suspect has since been identified at Paul Woodlyn.

WATCHING A LOVED ONE DIE BEFORE THEIR EYES

Jayanna was walking home from school around 3:15 p.m. on Nov. 18 with three siblings, her hand inside older brother Hassan’s.

That’s when a silver 2009-2016 Nissan Maxima or Altima struck the 8-year-old girl near 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue, throwing her into a parked car that still features the dents from the impact.

She would die two hours later at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as her parents looked on a version of horror that quickly turns to anger at the coward who left a little girl to die in the street.

"She had tears coming out of her eyes while me and him both stood on one side of her, telling her, ‘We love you, fight baby, we love you.' ” – Ayeshia Poole, Jayanna's mother

On Wednesday, both Ayeshia and James continued their quest to keep Jayanna’s life and death on the minds of Philadelphians, speaking in depth to PhillyVoice about what’s become of their lives since the loss of their child. The interview came just hours before a vehicle possibly involved in the case was located in Chester County.

It’s a heart-wrenching story, but one that features smiles. The pair hasn’t let grief destroy the beautiful memories of a young girl who, in a cellphone video recorded the night before her death, tells her mommy she loves her, smiles broadly and laughs contagiously.

Ayeshia remembers kissing her four children goodbye and telling them to have a great day before they left for school. Jayanna was particularly excited because her mommy was off from work that day.

“We were going to bake chocolate chip cookies when she got home,” Ayeshia says. “Jay Jay loved cookies, any kind, she just loved to bake cookies. When she was leaving, she said, ‘Mommy, I love you, too. Don’t forget to take out the cookies! I said, ‘Ok, Jay Jay. I got you.’”

NoneBrian Hickey/PhillyVoice

The intersection where Jayanna Powell, 8, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver features reminders that the case is still unsolved, and how the community has rallied together in her memory.


At 3:15 p.m., Ayeshia set out on foot to meet her kids as they were walking home. She wanted to meet them where the school crossing guard posts ended near 63rd Street.

Her phone, on vibrate in her pocket, started going crazy. Texts. Calls. She paid it no mind at first, but the buzzing continued, so she checked for a text. It was her manager at work.

“I don’t know where you are, sweetie, but you have to get to 63rd and Lansdowne,” it read. “One of your children just got hit.”

Then the school called.

“Ms. Poole, you need to get to 63rd and Lansdowne now,” the caller said. “There was nothing about what happened. It was ‘get to 63rd and Lansdowne right now.”

She ran the rest of the way, wondering which of her four children had been hit. When she got there, she saw a huge crowd – police officers, medics and two ambulances. Her heart started racing when she didn’t see any of her children, who range in age from 6 to 12 years old.

“I get to the ambulances, screaming their names, thinking that if they hear me, I’ll hear, ‘Mommy,’” she remembers of what happened just before one of the ambulance’s back doors opened up. “Any mother knows her child. You know what your child’s skin is, what they wore to school that day.

“All I saw was my baby and them on top of her (performing CPR) and I’m screaming, ‘No, Jayanna, Jayanna.’ The principal comes over and I ask her to please tell me that’s not Jayanna. And she said, ‘Miss Poole, I can’t tell you that.’ I just screamed and fell out. They helped me up. ‘I just want to be with my baby.’”

A squad car then rushed her to CHOP. En route, she called James, who was doing tile work in Drexel Hill. He rushed to the hospital in a parental frenzy.

“I broke out in tears, rushed down from the third floor where I was working down to the first, screaming ‘Please get me to the hospital, please get me to the hospital, my baby’s in the hospital,’” James said.

Ayeshia arrived moments before the ambulance, seeing scrubbed-up doctors and nurses prepping the trauma emergency room for her daughter’s arrival. James arrived shortly thereafter.

“I just need my baby to see my face, so she knows I’m here with her,” she told a security guard who moved her away to clear a path from ambulance to emergency room. “When they brought her past me, that’s when I saw her face bloodied.”

Ayeshia and James would see images that no parents should see.

Doctors bringing their daughter back from death twice. X-rays of a cracked neck. A compound fracture that left her upper leg bone protruding from a fist-sized hole in her skin. Substantial facial bruising.

“They let us in the room with her. She cried. She had tears coming out of her eyes while me and him both stood on one side of her, telling her, ‘We love you, fight baby, we love you,’” Ayeshia says. “That’s when the doctor said, ‘Sorry, but Jayanna is gone.’”

SEEKING JUSTICE

Jay Jay’s funeral would be held 10 days later, with burial at Fernwood Cemetery in Lansdowne. The flowers matched the “Frozen” theme that the young girl loved in life.

For Thanksgiving, they ate Boston Market and food that well-wishers dropped off at the house. For Christmas, they’ll put Jay Jay’s names on gifts for the siblings left behind, and they’ll bring gifts for Jay Jay there as well. Her brothers and sisters will open them for her.

Grief has given way to anger at the driver, concern that there wasn’t a crossing guard there and concern for Hassan, who has to live with the fact that he was able to urge one young sibling to run from the car’s path but couldn’t do the same for Jay Jay.

“All I want is justice. The guy who took my baby out of here, we need answers from him about why he didn’t stop, just tell me why. He had to see four kids in the street,” James sighs.

“Hassan is taking it a lot harder because he feels as if he’s their protector,” Ayeshia shares, noting that her son remembers seeing his sister get thrown by the vehicle. “And he said to me, ‘Mommy, I couldn’t protect her. I tried, but I couldn’t.’ I told him, ‘Baby, it’s not your fault. You were her hero. You’ve been her hero since she was born.’”

Before Monday’s funeral, officers within the 19th District helped give Hassan some relief, awarding him with a big “hero” necklace. Everybody clapped.

“That brought his spirits up a little more,” she says. “He kept touching it, smiling.”

Hassan saw the speeding vehicle out of the corner of his eye, and has some visual recall of what the driver looked like (white glasses, some facial hair). All three ran to be near Jay Jay after the collision.

Videos, pictures and memories have helped them block out the horrible scenes from the intersection and hospital.

NoneBrian Hickey/PhillyVoice

A memorial to 8-year-old Jayanna Powell, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on November 18, 2016.


Like how she was born at home. There were so many false labors that James “thought she was jiving” that one time. Turned out that he’d get delivery instructions from the 911 dispatcher.

“(Ayeshia) starts screaming ....” James remembers of Jay Jay’s birth. “I get on my knees and see the whole crown of my daughter’s head. The paramedic came in, cut (Ayeshia) with no epidural and (Jay Jay) came right out.

Jay Jay was also there for the in-car labor, and hospital delivery, of her younger brother.

“Jayanna jumped out of the nurse’s arms because a doctor was putting the baby into an incubator,” Ayeshia recalls. “Jayanna ran over there, ‘no baby, my baby!’”

'HE JUST KEPT GOING'

James fondly remembers how Jay Jay would, each time they saw one another, ask, “What are you supposed to give me?” in pursuit of a huge hug. That’s when Ayeshia produces a cellphone video taken the night before her death as her favorite memory.

“I don’t know why I recorded it. We were just sitting there watching Bernie Mac (on television) and picked up my phone and started recording,” she says. “Never would know that the next day, my baby wouldn’t be with me anymore. That keeps me going. Hearing ‘I love you, mommy’ keeps me going. I might cry a little bit. But I’ll always keep going because I see that smile and I have to smile.

“We just need to know who did it, and why. He hit her like she was an animal and just kept going. He could’ve stopped and asked if she was OK before taking off. But he didn’t. He just kept going. Didn’t hit the brakes. Nothing.”

That’s why Jay Jay’s family has directed their energies toward keeping this story in the news, and putting the heat on the yet-identified driver who took something very special from them all. Ayeshia’s willing to do walks everyday, regularly post on social media and anything it takes to get justice.

NoneBrian Hickey/PhillyVoice

When Jayanna Powell was struck by a hit-and-run driver near 63rd Street and Lansdowne Avenue, her body was thrown into a car parked along the side of the street. The dent from the impact was still visible nearly two weeks later.


James, who has to go back to the scene regularly as he’s working on renovations at a property right on that block, suspects the driver might have had guns or drugs in the car, which would prompt him to take off in the interests of self-preservation. He estimated the car was going more than 60 mph on a street that police in the area see as a dangerous speedway.

“(The driver) didn’t show no kindness, no remorse, no sympathy, no nothing. You hit her like she was a dog or a cat in the middle of the street, like she wasn’t a human being,” says Ayeshia, getting angry when the conversation turns to the legal side of the case. “You can’t say you didn’t know you hit something. I know you saw her. I know you saw that she hit your hood and went up in the air. I know you saw this.”

Jay Jay’s parents think they’ll feel better about the whole situation if “the monster gets taken off the street before he hits another innocent child.”

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A GoFundMe fundraising drive to help the family in their time of need has also been established.