McCrabb: Mother of 6-year-old boy killed crossing street: ‘It’s not the same without him’

The Nolen Jones Memorial Buddy Bench was dedicated outside Linden Elementary School in Hamilton.

As Mina Watson sat on the Nolen Jones Memorial Buddy Bench she was overcome with loneliness, the same empty emotion that with draw Linden Elementary School students to sit on the bright blue metal bench.

The youngest of her three children, Nolen, 6, then a kindergartner at Linden, was killed by a motorist May 11, 2021 while crossing Pleasant Avenue. His brother, Logan Watson, now 13, also was injured in the incident.

It’s been more than 17 months since Nolen was killed. Watson, 32, has struggled through sleepless nights and when she closes her eyes, she sees her two sons lying on the bloody pavement, one dead, the other injured.

“They say time heals all wounds,” she said. “That’s not true. You just learn to live with it. It’s not the same without him. It doesn’t get easier. It never will get easier. No parent should have to go through that. No parent should bury their kid.”

The close-knit Lindenwald community has made sure Nolen isn’t forgotten. A 12-foot bench, funded by the PTO and the owner of a local tattoo parlor, was dedicated last week and as Watson cut the red ribbon, school officials, students and parents watched, some of them dabbing away tears.

Brandi Hazelwood, the first-year principal at Linden, said the bench serves “a unique purpose.” If a student feels lonely or lost, they’re supposed to sit on the bench as a “signal that they need someone to play with.”

While Hazelwood, who worked at Highland Elementary School last year, never met Nolen, she has heard countless stories about him. She understands what the boy meant inside and outside the classroom.

When determining the best way to honor Nolen, Hazelwood said the bench was the “perfect symbol as the concept of this bench is built on the exact kindness that Nolen showed to his family and friends.”

The bench, she said, provides “great hope in the future for the kindness and inclusiveness of all our kids here.”

Watson said her son would have been the first student comforting a classmate sitting on the buddy bench.

“He was the sweetest, most loving baby there was,” she said. “He loved kids. He loved making friends. He loved everybody.”

That love was cut short on that spring night last year. The driver of the car, Elizabeth Ann Marie Mehl, 30, of Hamilton, was originally charged with OVI and child endangering, both misdemeanors, and felony drug abuse. There were two children, ages 10 and 3, in the car at the time of the crash, according to Hamilton police.

At the request of the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office, the misdemeanor charges against Mehl were dismissed in Hamilton Municipal Court to avoid possible double jeopardy issues because the continuing crash investigation could have resulted in more serious charges at the common pleas court level.

Eventually, Mehl was placed on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge for pills found in the car at the time of the crash. Officials said there wasn’t the necessary evidence to convict her on more serious charges

During an 18-month stretch, Watson buried her dad, grandmother, son and mom. Most of them are memorialized by tattoos on her arms and shoulder.

The freshest ink features a colored hand turkey that Nolen drew. The tattoo looks incomplete. There’s a reason for that.

Nolen Scott Jones died before it was finished.

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