By CONNIE MABIN, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - The red-headed, rosy-cheeked boy who died after crashing his grandmother's car will be remembered for his love of swimming, eating peanut butter straight from the jar and playing with toy cars, his family says.
Joey Parsons Jr., 5, died Monday night after taking the keys that morning, leaving the house while his family slept and driving the car 700 feet down a residential street.
"Joey was a fire cracker," his father Joey Parsons Sr. said Tuesday through tears. "I can just see him laughing."
Born three months premature, Joey had a learning disability but was a healthy, happy child, his family said.
"He had a lot of energy," said aunt Susan Hodge.
The family said Joey's death should be a warning to parents to try to keep their children from getting behind the wheel.
"Just tell parents to keep your keys away from your children," Parsons said as he clutched his son's stuffed toy in the family's front yard.
"We protect them from rapists and it should have been keys," said mother Peggy Parsons.
With Joey behind the wheel of Sandy Bittner's 1992 green Ford Taurus, the car swerved to the right, hitting a parked car. It then veered left, jumped the curb and hit a tree. Investigators have not determined how fast the car was going, said police spokeswoman Sgt. Donna Bell.
Joey was found slumped near the gas pedal. He was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center, where his parents had life support removed Monday night.
"He was dead at the scene. He broke his neck," his father said.
"And his lungs were crushed," his mother added, her voice heavy with emotion.
"His soul was gone. I could tell because I had his thoughts all through my head," his father said.
Joey's parents said they had no idea their son would try to drive a car.
"If I did, I'd stay up all night to stop him," his mother said.
Bittner had been staying with the family to recover from a broken ankle. She said she recently had the cast removed and had been driving her grandson around town.
The family suspected the boy was imitating his grandmother and perhaps trying to drive to visit a favorite aunt he called "Na-na."
"I didn't have my doors locked," Bittner said, her voice trailing off. "I can just imagine what he was thinking: 'I'm in the car going to Na-na's house.'"
As neighbors stopped to offer condolences, the family finalized arrangements for the funeral, scheduled for Friday morning. A fund to help pay for the costs has been set up at Key Bank, relatives said.
A few blocks away, a pile of stuffed toys, candles, flowers and balloons surrounded the tree that the car hit.