'It's been tough.' Family of beloved ShopRite cashier reflects on life of woman killed in hit-and-run crash
Stephane Smarth is trying to focus on the way his aunt lived rather than how she died. Marie Jean-Charles, 74, of Stamford, was killed about two weeks ago by a hit-and-run driver as she walked to work.
“She was just, you know, a super loving woman. Very caring. Lived by the Bible,” Smarth shared.
He said Jean-Charles helped his mom raise him and his three siblings.
“She lived with us for about 25 years,” Smarth explained, adding that to family, she was known as Maud, not Marie.
He showed News 12 a framed picture of him and Jean-Charles at his high school graduation and one with her beside him when he graduated from the police academy.
On Nov. 21, a car slammed into Jean-Charles as she crossed West Main Street to get to her job at ShopRite, then fled the scene. Stamford police initially didn’t release her name, only identifying the victim as a 74-year-old woman who worked nearby. Smarth said he got a call that afternoon from his brother, who was concerned after seeing video of the crash and the News 12 report online.
“So he sent the info to me, and now I’m doing the math,” Smarth recalled. “I'm kind of racing down to the department. I’m calling a bunch of people just to see if we could get a victim's name.”
Then a call from a supervisor confirmed his worst fears.
“It's one of those things where you're like, ‘It could be her. It might be her,’ but you never really expect to get that 100% confirmation,” Smarth said.
He stated one of the most difficult parts her death is the way that it happened. Smarth said he’s seen video of the scene, which included two tarps 50 yards apart, covering different body parts.
“I don't think anyone deserves to go the way she did but especially her. Yeah, it's been tough,” he said.
Police said based on the condition of her body, the driver had to have been speeding at the time. They found the suspect car later that day at the address it's registered to. Police told News 12 they are waiting for test results from the state lab, including DNA, to confirm who was driving before getting an arrest warrant for that person.
“Hating him would be so easy,” Smarth said, adding that Jean-Charles would want him to forgive the driver. “But to hate him would be to actively think about him regularly and by doing that, I don't get to remember her.”
It’s his own memories and total strangers’ that have helped Smarth in his grief. Jean-Charles was a beloved cashier at ShopRite for 25 years. Customers used to wait in line just to get rung up by her and talk with her. They've shared story after story on social media and in messages to Smarth.
“I didn't realize how many people she's really made an impact on,” he stated. “One of the things she loved about her job was listening to people's stories. She had so many customers so many people go through her line over the years, and she loved giving advice.”
Smarth said the stories he’s heard from customers and coworkers are reminiscent of his childhood.
“She's a caregiver, you know? Any way that she can help you, she'll do it, so her job as a cashier might seem small to a lot of people, but for her, you know, she tried to make everyone's day,” he explained.
Smarth told News 12 his family was especially touched after the Stamford Fire Department’s West Side Station had a banner made for Jean-Charles that they hung up by her register at the supermarket. It includes the sentiment: “May her smile continue to shine upon us all.”
What's also been a comfort is a four-page letter Jean-Charles wrote to Smarth just before he went to college. It’s dated June 14, 2002. Smarth never saw the letter for whatever reason, but his mom recently found it.
“Maud was just like super ecstatic about, you know, me graduating and me going off to college,” Smarth said smiling.
He said the letter has jokes, advice, and Bible verses that maybe wouldn’t have resonated with him back then but especially do right now.
“I could just hear her voice reading it, you know? So it helped. It definitely helped,” Smarth told News 12.
The community is invited to a candle light vigil in memory of Jean-Charles Thursday, Dec. 7, at 6 p.m. It’s at 1990 West Main Street, the edge of the ShopRite parking lot, where Jean-Charles’ work family set up a memorial to her.
There’s also a fundraising effort for her funeral.