“She was so sweet,” Charlene Threats said of her daughter Jazzmyne Ashworth, who died in a June wreck in Calhoun, Tennessee, when a train collided with the car she was the passenger in. “She did so much in the 17 years she had with me. She made sure I knew I was loved.”
Nearly six months after the death of the Sonoraville High School student, family members are still mourning the loss of Ashworth, who would have graduated in May. Yet, despite her grieving, Ashworth’s mother has decided to try to make something good of this tragic death, starting a nonprofit in honor of her daughter.
According to reports from the Tennessee State Patrol, around 5:30 p.m. on June 21, a 2009 Ford Fusion, driven by Wendy M. Humphreys, 45, of Chattanooga, was traveling northbound on U.S. 11 in Calhoun, Tennessee, and made a right turn onto a private road. The road did not have warning lights or crossing arms, and the car traveled directly in the path of a Norfolk Southern train that was running along the highway.
The train struck the car on the right side near the center of the vehicle. The report stated that the car then rolled down an embankment where it came to a rest upside down. Ashworth, 17, was a passenger in the vehicle; her father, Johnny Ashworth, 46, also from Chattanooga, was also a passenger in the vehicle. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.
“You go through a period of shock, and you go through a period of asking why. Then you start to research and see how this happened,” Threats said of the crash. “It took me going to the site several times for me to realize there was nothing the driver could have done, so I can’t be mad. There was nothing that could have been done.”
Reflecting on her daughter’s life, Threats said Ashworth was loved by her friends and community, and was very involved in Gordon County.
“Her passion was agriculture, and she was a part of FFA. She also worked with Tuskegee University for three years, researching and participating in their summer programs, and she planned to go to Tuskegee for college,” Threats said.
And though at times Threats is tempted to say that she missed out on special moments due to her daughter’s early death, she is always reminded that she was able to see Ashworth accomplish quite a lot in her 17 years, thanks to her participation in the Disney Dreamers Academy.
Early last year, Ashworth was announced as a winner in the “2018 Disney Dreamers Academy Essay Contest,” where she was invited to attend the special academy. Walt Disney World, in partnership with Steve Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine, created Disney Dreamers Academy in 2008 to encourage young people along their paths to success and to convey that the power of dreaming is the first step to achieving their goals.
The Academy is a four-day, power-packed event in which only 100 select high school students across the country are inspired, motivated and prepared to dream big. Ashworth attended the event last March, where Disney paid for her and Threats to travel to Orlando, Florida, for the prestigious program.
“She didn’t graduate high school, but I got to see her graduate at the Disney Dreamers Academy ceremony. I also wanted to see a Broadway play with her, and at the end of the academy, they did a production of the Lion King,” Threats said. “I got to see her in her field of work. I got to see who she would have become.”
She was also among 200 students chosen nationwide to attend the esteemed three-day 24th annual Global Youth Institute late last year, where she interacted with young leaders from around the United States as well as nine other countries.
The Jazzmyne Ashworth Project
Approaching Jan. 11, the date that would have been Ashworth’s 18th birthday, Threats is in the works of starting a nonprofit organization called the Jazzmyne Ashworth Project, which she has initiated to raise railroad safety awareness. Threats’ goal is to increase the amount of lights, safety devices, and warning signs at intersections where a railroad crosses with a road to notify oncoming traffic and pedestrians of nearby trains.
“For Jazzmyne’s case, nothing was there. There was nothing at that site to alarm them that a train was approaching,” Threats said. “The nonprofit is to bring awareness to railroad safety.”
Threats said there have been two other crashes at the location of her daughter’s collision, and she wants to work to get safety signs and lights up at locations like this one.
Her catch phrase for her new organization is “Pause and think Jazzmyne,” a phrase she encourages others to think of before crossing a railroad. Because of Ashworth’s collision, she realized that without a warning, a loved one can be gone.
“A part of this (nonprofit) might be her purpose,” Threats said. “If there’s one other life that can be saved, it would make this all worth it. It would make her life count.”
Speaking up after this devastating event, Threats hopes to prevent other lives from being taken by train wrecks. In reflection of Ashworth’s death, Threats composed a “heavenly birthday wish,” a letter to her daughter, to remember and celebrate Ashworth’s joyful yet short life.
“Heavenly Birthday Wish –
“On Jan. 11, 2019 we would have been celebrating your 18th birthday and the last semester of you at Sonoraville High School. Instead, I am forced to wish you a first Heavenly Birthday. You took your last breath and earned your Heavenly Wings on June 21, 2018 after being a passenger in a car/train collision. I find peace in knowing that you were unaware that your life had ended. The force of the oncoming train and the lack of safety warning, as there were no horns, safety arms nor lights, did not signal to you that you would be departing from this earth. You simply took your last breath, blinked and you were gone.
“In your death, I have gained an appreciation of God’s Artwork as you would call it. I stand in awe of the pink skies as the sun sets. I am amazed to watch the red cardinals and blue birds that play outside my backyard. I admire the simplicity of watching the deer walk pass the front yard, and I drive very carefully at nighttime just to make sure that I don’t separate a young fawn from the group. I take time to smell the roses and find excitement when I recognize some of the plants you were teaching me. I have come to understand the tenderness of a hug as I remember that your sister has lost more than a sibling, she lost her best friend. Thank you for teaching me to be present in the moment because life can change in the blink of an eye.
“You left me, your sister, your family and your friends behind to cherish your memories. I am very grateful that God chose me to be your mom and blessed me with 17 years and 5 months to love you. I can hear you reminding me that my best and brightest days are still ahead so make them count to the fullest.
“Happy Forever 17th Birthday Jazzmyne Ashworth!! I love you beyond any words imaginable.”