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‘Justice did not get justice:’ Parents of Marine Corps officer killed upset over sentence given to driver

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 12:25 AM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - First Lieutenant Justice Stewart went for a run along Highway 50 in Pender County on the night of June 27th. She never made it back home.

Stewarts’ parents, who live in South Carolina, said that a state trooper described to them what happened.

“They [trooper and Stewart’s roommate] told us what happened. She was out running. While she was running she was hit and struck by a drunk driver that just left the bar,” said Tia Jones, Stewart’s mother.

Investigators believe Stewart died upon impact.

The man behind the wheel: William Genens.

Since the investigation that followed failed to develop sufficient evidence to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Genens was impaired at the time of the crash, he pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving. His punishment: 120 days in jail and 16-29 months suspended sentence.

Had it been proven in court he was impaired, he would have received a higher charge and a more severe sentence.

“In court I relived it. When I heard the sentencing — I felt like I was back at my day one,” Tia Jones said. “Our daughter is the one, who is named Justice, is not having justice right now.”

According to the District Attorney’s office, Genens pulled over after the crash and tried to wave down passing drivers.

Homeowners that lived near where the crash happened heard the the collision and went out to speak to Genens.

“The homeowners informed Genens that he should call 911, but he refused and instead called his adult children to get assistance for himself,” District Attorney Ben David said in a media release.

Finding out that the man who hit their loved one failed to call 911 was especially disturbing for Stewart’s family.

“He refused to dial 911 and called his family for his sake and we don’t know how long that was, we don’t know what his thoughts were,” said Woodrow Jones, Stewart’s stepfather. “She did not have these conditional thoughts about you as you convey when you decided to not call 911 to render any type of humanity to our daughter.”

Stewart’s parents say she was many things.

“She was smart, she was determined, she had tenacity,” Tia Jones said. “She was one that brought laughter and love wherever she went. She had a smile, she had a joke — your stomach would be hurting by the time you finished, but she was brilliant.”

The 25-year-old Marine Corps officer served at Camp Lejeune.

“Her next rank would have been captain and there’s only 17 captains that are women — African American women in the Marine Corps,” Tia Jones said.

“She earned the right to be called a Marine Corps officer, a First Lieutenant,” Woodrow Jones said, who is a retired Navy Corpsman. “I don’t want to misconstrue her title or her name because everything they wear, everything they put on means something.”

Her parents were also upset because they say Genens did not use their daughter’s name in court.

“She was a woman, you know, he hit this woman, hit and killed this woman,” Tia Jones said. “It was just like, no, she has a name. Say her name. First Lieutenant Justice Regine Stewart. She deserves to be respected.”

Stewart is also a published author who loved writing and language and poetry. Her book is entitled Kairos.

It’s Stewart’s own words, an original poem entitled ‘The Big Bang,’ that comforts her mother during these dark days.

“It says: Even on the days where everything is seemingly falling apart, know that all is truly falling in place. The universe was once in pieces too,” Tia Jones read aloud. “And so when I think about how positive she was and just her loving spirit — that warms my heart. That takes away so much of this hurt.”

While Stewart’s family is working to pick up the pieces and put them back together, there are reminders of the loved one they lost and of the court system they believe let her down.

“There’s sleepless, sleepless nights where you just, you wake up and you run through what you heard and doesn’t hit you until 24-48 hours later… wait a minute did they just say that?” Woodrow Jones said.

Stewart had just finished her second book before she was killed. Her parents are in the process of getting it published. They said all the proceeds from Stewart’s book sales will go into her charitable foundation, Empowering Justice Charitable Foundation, which will be used for scholarships and grants.

WECT reached out to the District Attorney’s office to try and figure out why there was not enough proof. This story will be updated if more information is provided.

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