Donald Robert Felts, 66, stands in front of a cross on Easter Sunday at First United Methodist Church. He died in a tragic accident on Wednesday at the Short Stop convenience store in Elm City.
By Olivia Neeley
Times Staff Writer
ELM CITY — The regulars at Oh My Lard restaurant all ordered the same breakfast Thursday morning — a smoked sausage biscuit with mustard and mayonnaise.
That was their way to pay tribute to Donald Robert Felts, who they say was the heart and soul of Elm City.
“We called it a Little D,” Sherry Bass, owner of Oh My Lard, said about the special biscuit. “He came in here every day. He ordered the same thing. We all had one this morning in his honor.”
The 65-year-old died Wednesday night in a tragic accident at the Short Stop convenience store on South Parker Street in Elm City. Officials said it happened around 9:45 p.m.
Mary Sanders Young, 66, was backing out of a parking space and backed into a concrete barrier in front of the gas pump, according to the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. Officials said Young put the vehicle in drive, striking Felts. He was pinned against the ice machine beside the store, said Wanda Samuel, sheriff’s office chief of staff.
Felts was pronounced dead at the scene, she said.
Young, of Elm City, was checked out on the scene by emergency medics and taken to the hospital, Samuel said. Residents called it a “freak accident.”
Samuel said the case is still under investigation.
The news of Felts’ sudden death spread throughout the small town, leaving residents devastated. Felts, who was soft-spoken, had a kind soul and always wanted to help others.
“He was a fixture in Elm City,” Bass said. “I don’t know anybody he hasn’t helped.”
Lin Jones, Toisnot Volunteer Fire Department chief, said Felts had been a volunteer firefighter there for more than 40 years. He had gotten off the department a little more than a year ago, Jones said. But that didn’t mean Felts still didn’t care about those he worked with and the fire calls they went on.
“It’s very sad to know we will not see him standing at the Short Stop waving as we go by to the next call,” Jones said. “He was always upbeat no matter what.”
Bass said Felts thought so much of the fire department and was truly dedicated to those he served.
“Anytime the fire whistle blew, he’d stop in mid-conversation and hold his finger up,” she said referring to him listening to those calls.
Officials lowered the American flag outside the fire department to half-staff Thursday.
Bass said a somber tone could be sensed around Elm City.
“We are going to miss him,” she said. “We already do miss him.”
‘HE’S WHAT MADE OUR TOWN SPECIAL’
Robert Vick, co-owner of Elm City Furniture, said Felts would cut grass outside the store each year. He said store employees were getting ready to ask him to start up again for this year.
“He loved everybody,” said Vick, who has known Felts for decades. “He didn’t meet anybody he couldn’t talk to. It’s a just a blow to everybody here.”
Resident Jacci Queen said she saw flashing lights, fire trucks, deputies’ vehicles and ambulances Wednesday night at the Short Stop. She knew something terrible had happened. When she and her friend found out Felts had been killed, they were immediately overwhelmed with emotion.
“We started crying immediately,” she said. “He was the heart and soul of this town.”
Queen, who has also known Felts for years, said he always did odd jobs around town.
“He would do anything for you if he could,” she said. “We had many conversations over the years.”
She said they frequently had breakfast together at Oh My Lard, too.
“He had the best heart in the world,” she said. “It’s like we’ve lost a family member. Everybody loved Donald. He was the personality of Elm City. He is what made our town so special.”
A PHOTO AND THE CROSS
On Easter Sunday, Queen said she and other church members were decorating the cross with flowers outside First United Methodist Church in Elm City.
As she was taking pictures of the cross, she saw Felts drive by in his truck. She waved and told Felts to come over and get his picture taken in front of the cross.
“I’m not dressed for the picture,” he told Queen.
She told him it didn’t matter how he was dressed. He got out of his truck and stood in front of the ornate, flower-draped cross. Queen snapped a picture.
The picture shows Felts flashing a broad smile. That picture was circulating across social media Thursday as folks found out about Felts’ death. It was a reminder of the person he was.
“That was God that did that,” Queen said. “It was meant for me to be there at that moment.”