Accident victim's family copes with loss

By Clay Wilson

Gregory Jones said that in life his teen-age son, Antonio Benson, always tried to live up to his father's expectations.

But after Benson's recent death, Jones said he himself is now the one that wants to measure up.

"I have to still be the parent that I would have been for him. He expects that ?," said Jones. "I know he's up there talking to God."

Jones, 43, spoke from the family room of his Fairview home – a room showcasing a caseful of trophies that Benson, his 14-year-old brother Mike and 10-year-old sister Tiara have garnered.

Like "'Tonio," as the family calls Benson, Mike is an avid football player. He will play defensive end for Stockbridge High School's junior varsity team this year.

Benson would have been a starting lineman for the varsity team.

The 15-year-old was killed June 19 in a forklift accident in College Park.

"He wanted to learn the job himself, and that's how he got on that lift," Jones said.

According to Jones, a desire to "learn it himself" wasn't at all out of character for Benson. He recalled his son's first day of kindergarten.

"He used to act like he was nervous, but after that – he didn't want you coming around," he said. "That's how he was about anything. Once he learned it ?"

One thing Benson obviously learned well was how to play football. His brother, Mike, said he and Benson developed a love for the game as children watching their cousins play.

But Benson faced an obstacle, according to Jones: asthma.

"It didn't look like he was going to play at first because he had asthma – but he wouldn't let that stop him – When he became a freshman, he worked hard."

After Benson's death, the coach who had picked him for a starting spot on the varsity team recalled his hard-working nature.

"He always brought a great attitude to practice and always did what we asked (the players) to do," SHS Head Coach Danny Fairbanks said.

Jones said that a great attitude fairly well defined Benson's life.

"If he wasn't my son, I would still be saying the same thing about him, because he was that nice a person," he said.

In testimony to Benson's likeable nature, Stockbridge High students organized a memorial service for him two days after the accident. Jones said this service helped begin the healing process for him.

"They gave me breath. They give me life. Just to see that they had that much love and respect for one of their fellow students," he said.

"When this first happened it was hard to breathe – It was hard ?"

Jones said his son's death has been all the harder because he was there when it happened. A supervisor for the Newnan-based Kaylex Company, Jones said he had been taking Benson to work with him in the College Park warehouse where the accident occurred. He said he would pay Benson himself for the work.

"I was attempting to get him into a work ethic," he said.

According to police reports, on June 19 Benson asked another Kaylex employee to teach him to drive the forklift. The man agreed, and Benson apparently lost control of the vehicle.

The lift went through a loading bay door and off a four-foot drop. Benson fell out and was pinned underneath.

"I had waved to him and said, ?You're doing good," Jones said. "I may have (gone) 100 feet when I heard that crash."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the accident. By federal law, a person must be at least 18 years old to operate a forklift.

Jones said he has been cooperating with the investigators. According to Patricia Morris, assistant area director for OSHA's Atlanta West office, "It's going to be a couple or more weeks before we're ready to reach any conclusions." OSHA has up to six months to issue its report.

For a family that buried a son just over a week ago (Benson's funeral was June 26), Jones' household seemed remarkably composed.

Benson's mother, Freida, prepared coffee. Tiara giggled as she recalled how her brother bought her pencils and paper one day when she needed them. The whole family was getting ready for Wednesday night services at the New Life Church of God in Christ.

"We really believe in God's will for our lives," Jones said. "Whatever happens, He's in control."

He said he believes that something good will come from Benson's death - whether it is the way Stockbridge High came together afterwards, the new closeness that the family has found with family, friends and even unknown neighbors, or a wake-up call to a teen who is heading down the wrong path in life.

"We have our moments. It's not always easy," Jones said. But he added, "God knows best. He doesn't make mistakes."