D'Ancee Barnes' mother told him to stay put.
But the 3-year-old boy ran toward her anyway and was struck by a Cadillac that sped away shortly after the collision.
The impact killed Barnes and left his mother with crippling depression that has haunted her for 23 years. LaCresha Gipson, the wife of Carson City Councilman Mike Gipson, recently decided to come forward with her story in the hope that the woman who hit her son would finally be brought to justice.
"We haven't forgotten. We're still suffering his loss," LaCresha said. "For the rest of our life, we're taking it one day at a time. I've had moments I just shut down."
The Gipsons have found a supportive community. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council promised a $50,000 reward, and KCAL 9's Crime Stoppers Case Files will air a re-enactment of the crime next month. Donated billboard advertisements also will be erected soon near Van Ness and Gage avenues in Los Angeles, where Barnes was killed at about 9 p.m. on March 18, 1989.
"I don't think any parent should have to bury their child," Mike said. "Seeing a child that resembles D'Ancee in a store, LaCresha will try to approach that child - before realizing it's not him. She has outbursts in the middle of the night."
Hearing a child's scream on television news and seeing a shoe lying on the asphalt are triggers that remind her of that day. D'Ancee's shoe was knocked off by the impact. His last word was "Ma."
The boy was inside LaCresha's brother's house while she was outside talking to a tow truck driver about a flat tire on her car. D'Ancee got outside, saw her across the street, and ran to her.
"I heard him coming. I yelled for him to stop and - just that quick - it happened," she said. "The driver got out of the car, ran over to him, and then ran back to her car and drove away. It was so fast, we weren't able to get a license plate."
Mike began dating LaCresha soon after her son was killed in 1989. The couple previously dated in high school, but lost touch until he contacted her after hearing about D'Ancee's death. They were married in 1995 and have two sons together. Still, remembering the day D'Ancee died has not gotten much easier.
The family still celebrates D'Ancee's birthday and brings a Christmas tree every year to his gravestone at Roosevelt Memorial Park in Gardena.
"Birthdays and anniversaries are constant reminders that there's no closure, and this lady is still out there," Mike said. "I believe she's a mother who fled because she was scared. She knows what she's done and this will haunt her the same way it's haunted me and my wife."
Detective Jim Render, who works in the Los Angeles Police Department's South Traffic Division, said the suspect faces charges of manslaughter and for fleeing the scene of a crime.
"This is a mother who has not allowed this case to be overlooked," Render said. "Because of her diligent efforts to see justice served, we were able to obtain a reward. It's imperative that we get help from the community. Whoever did this might have passed this information to someone, and the reward would be a motivation to come forward."
The tow truck driver provided a description of the suspect because LaCresha was too focused on her son to get a good look at the woman, she said.
The suspect is described as a 5-foot-6 black woman. In 1989, she appeared to be in her early 30s and weigh about 120 pounds. She was driving a two-door white or light brown 1974-1985 Cadillac, and she drove north on Van Ness Avenue after the crime.
After D'Ancee was hit, LaCresha screamed for someone to call an ambulance. Neighbors ran out and restrained her from going over to her dead son. The pain has stayed fresh for decades but she believes that talking about it publicly will help ease that.
"I never stopped trusting and believing in my God but I got to a point where I just gave it over to him," she said. "Then all these avenues started opening up. It was overwhelming in a good way. I felt I could talk to people without being so emotional, and feel good for doing it."
Anyone with information about the crime should call the Los Angeles Police Department's South Traffic Division at 323-421-2500.
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