Family embraces friend charged in woman's death
Saturday was a glorious day. The sun shone brightly, and the temperature topped out in the 70s. Suellen "Ella" Mitchum and Amy Bolick spent the day riding around feeling good about life. Mitchum's thoughts often were on her 14-year-old daughter, Mariya, a freshman at South Caldwell High School.
"That day was all about Mariya," Bolick said Wednesday. "Everywhere we went, Mariya was on her mind."
At some point during the day they made a stop at a dollar store, where Mitchum bought a cheap crown and stuck it on her head. The crown sat crooked, fitting for the occasion.
"She wore it all day," Bolick said. "We smiled and laughed about it. She kept telling me something big was going to happen but didn't know what."
About 1:30 a.m., Mitchum and Bolick went to friend Jenna Triplett's house on Dry Ponds Road. Triplett, who had been working until about 11 p.m., sat with them in her carport, and they talked for a couple of hours. Bolick, who Mitchum affectionately called "Mi-Ami," was tired, and left.
"The last thing Ella said to me before I left that night was, 'I love you, Mi-Ami," Bolick said.
Mitchum and a cousin also left. Triplett went to bed.
A phone call a while later woke Triplett. It was Mitchum, wanting a ride home for her and her cousin.
"She was her friend, in the middle of the night," said Rebekah Clark, Mitchum's sister. "She was just going that mile. There was no question she would give her that ride. That's what friends do."
Later, on Sunset Road in Granite Falls, the pair began to listen to the Pink song "Beam Me Up." The song reminded Mitchum of her mother, Carolyn Russell Carswell, who died when Mitchum was only 9. They were heading toward Camelot Manor near Turner Road in a 2000 Nissan SUV. Triplett was driving about 50 mph. The speed limit, where Sunset Road takes a slight bend to the left, is 35 mph. Distracted, Triplett missed that the road was turning. She continued straight and struck a utility pole on the passenger side of the car. Both were belted into their seats, but Mitchum's body took the brunt of the impact, and she died soon after impact.
She was 33.
Triplett was charged Sunday with driving while impaired and reckless driving. The investigation has been turned over to the district attorney's office, which could consider further charges, such as felony death by vehicle, Highway Patrol Trooper M.T. Stutts said.
Triplett and Mitchum enjoyed a bond that made them inseparable at times. Triplett will be with Mitchum one more time at a gathering of family and friends today at the First United Methodist Church in Granite Falls.
"They were a kindred spirit, best friends for life," Clark said. "They were together all the time. They went on trips together, even went grocery shopping together.
"We love Jenna, our entire family is devastated and sad. We know Jenna would never want any harm on Ella."
Mitchum was the youngest of three sisters. Despite the age range -- Clark is 40, Adele Scruggs 37 -- the three were close geographically and also in good times and bad. The three spent time together at Clark's 40th birthday party two weeks ago.
"She was my best friend and sister," Scruggs said. "The three of us was all we had together. We took up for each other. If one of us needed the other, we'd jump in the car and help."
Sydney Harris, who worked with Mitchum at Graystone Eye in Hickory about three years ago, said she remembers Mitchum's lively spirit and vibrant personality.
"She was always smiling," Harris said. "She was a great person all around, and an awesome mother. Her daughter was her life. It's very sad what happened. She will be greatly missed. She touched a lot of people."
A Facebook page was set up in Mitchum's memory. Monica Call was one of several who posted messages on the page.
"I will never forget her smile, her voice, her laugh, her ability to turn a terrible situation into one of love and care," the post read in part. "This world is now a darker place without you in it to brighten it, without your beautiful glowing smile and loving personality."