A Pennsylvania couple’s dreams of living on island time were shattered on the afternoon of June 1 during a violent split-second of random carnage on Ocean Boulevard.
More than 100 folks gathered Monday at First Baptist Church on St. Simons Island, not in an attempt to make sense of the senseless tragedy but simply to honor the imprint Kent and Donna Lalley left on our community in their short time here. Friends, co-workers and those who were moved to pay their respects joined family members of the Lalleys in a celebration of their lives.
The Lalleys joined First Baptist Church shortly after moving to St. Simons Island a few years ago from their hometown of Somerset, Pa. Sadly, it was not far from the church, 729 Ocean Blvd., that a speeding southbound Camaro slammed into the Lalley’s Dodge Caravan. The two women in the speeding Camaro died at the scene, authorities said.
Donna, 50, and Kent Lalley, 57, were flown by helicopter to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center, where both died within hours of each other a week later on June 8. First Baptist Pastor Tony Lankford told those gathered Monday of getting to know an adventurous and spiritual couple. Their love for each other was matched only by their love of their two children, and their love of God, he said.
“Many many good people move here, just like Donna and Kent,” Lankford said. “We learn to embrace those people with the same compassion with which they embraced this place. We live in an interwoven community.”
Kent and Donna Lalley instilled their strong faith in their children, Alex, 21, and Janelle, 20. They also exposed their children to various cultures, traveling the world with them extensively, he said. “The two of them took their children to travel the world,” Lankford said. “Both of them have stories that any child would want. One of the closest places they took them was here.”
That visit to St. Simons Island changed everything for couple, both of whom had previously known only one hometown. Both Donna and Kent Lalley were graduates of Somerset (Pennsylvania) High School.
“They decided, I want to live somewhere warmer, let’s move to St. Simons Island,” Lankford said. “I always admired their courage ... They didn’t just talk about doing something, they did it. They moved down to this place and they loved this community.”
Kent Lalley, who had been in sales for a truck and engine equipment company in Somerset, went to work in sales for the Kut Kwick commercial lawnmower manufacturer in Brunswick. Donna Lalley went to work at the call center for the Brunswick-Glynn Joint Water and Sewer Commission in Brunswick.
They faced a major health crisis in April, when Kent Lalley underwent surgery to remove a nonmalignant tumor wedged between his brain and skull. Afterward, he stood before the congregation at First Baptist and gave moving testimony about the power of faith in getting them through the ordeal, Lankford recalled.
And then the inexplicable. Donna Lalley was driving the 25 mph speed limit, heading north on Ocean Boulevard at around 5:53 p.m. on June 1, her husband in the passenger seat. Georgia State Patrol troopers say impairment was a factor as Jade Mccray of Waycross sped south on Ocean Boulevard at excessive speed. One witness estimated the speed as high as 80 mph. The vehicle was partially in both lanes as it slammed into Lalley’s vehicle, troopers said. Mccray, 28, and her 28-year-old passenger, Callie Dean of Blackshear, died at the scene.
Donna Lalley was pronounced clinically brain dead by June 8, but she was kept on life-support so her organs and tissues could be harvested to help others, Lankford said. Kent Lalley died hours after his wife that same day.
“For many reasons we gather at this place with far more questions than answers,” Lankford said. “We simply do. We’re gathered with a chorus of differing emotions, from anger to deep sorrow. But unlike the chorus of a deeply beautiful melody, the chorus to us sounds offbeat, out of sorts, dissonant, confused. Like a song that makes no sense, as we walk this path of grief that occurs on the far side of tragedy. The reality is, if you love or care at all, grief will come your way.”
Janelle Lalley read Psalm 141. Alex Lalley thanked the local community for its prayers and assistance.
“It has been greatly appreciated,” he said. “Through the support of family, friends and the power of God, we’re going to get through this.”
Tarenna Jackson, a co-worker of Donna Lalley at JWSC, said she attended the memorial to remember a woman who brought joy and maybe even a little good-hearted mischief to the workplace.
“She was a lot of fun,” Jackson said. “I used to mess with her all the time. She was a character. I always met her with a smile, and she always left me with a smile. She will be missed, her little tiny self.”
JWSC co-workers Luke Orser-Schwalm and Michele Schwartz noted that Donna Lalley appeared inseparable from Kent Lalley outside of work. Both were always up for a trip to the beach. “They were loved by everybody, absolutely,” Orser-Schwalm said.
The Lalleys will be interred Saturday at St. John’s Cemetery in Somerset, Pa., following an 11 a.m. service at Somerset Alliance Church.
“Lastly,” Lankford said Monday in closing, “I leave you with something Kent and Donna want you to know. God loved them, they loved God and God loves you.”