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Great-aunt takes in children injured in Las Vegas crash

Updated July 17, 2019 - 4:13 pm

Lucille McKnight has always tried her best to act as a strong anchor for her family.

In 2013, she took in her niece’s three children and has been raising them as her own ever since.

But, she said Wednesday, the last year or so has been particularly difficult, dealing with her own set of medical issues while trying to raise young kids. And then last week, she unexpectedly went from raising three children to seven, after the children of another niece were seriously injured in a car crash.

The children’s grandmother and legal guardian, Rose Mary Modica, was driving. They were celebrating her 56th birthday on June 9 when all of the sudden her Toyota Camry began to pick up speed, entering a marked construction zone on Washington Avenue, near Decatur Boulevard.

The sedan sped over an open trench in the construction site, colliding into a work truck. Spinning out from the trench, the car then slammed into a nearby dirt berm and momentarily became airborne before hitting a skid-steer loader.

Witnesses have said she was speeding, honking and yelling as if she couldn’t stop.

The family was rushed to University Medical Center, where Modica died later that morning of blunt force injuries. The Clark County coroner’s office has said no other significant conditions were listed as a cause of death, including alcohol intoxication.

Las Vegas police are investigating whether a malfunction may have caused the crash. Two recalls for 2007 to 2010 model Camrys were announced in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for floor mats and accelerator pedals. Both were announced after reports of unintended acceleration.

Within hours of the crash, McKnight was at the children’s bedsides, and despite her mounting personal challenges, she knew what she had to do.

Her niece Thylicia McKnight, 33, was homeless and still had a pending case with Child Protective Services. Lucille McKnight would take in her four injured children while she worked to get back on her feet.

“It’s going to be a struggle, but we’re all going to get through it,” Lucille McKnight told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Wednesday.

Three of the four children — Christine, 2; Noel, 4; and Herman, 10 — had been released from the hospital by Friday evening and are now at home with their great-aunt.

But their 9-year-old brother, Lennie, was still in the hospital Wednesday. He was the most seriously injured in the crash.

He broke both his arms, the bones in his right hand were crushed, the back of his head had split open and his left eye was damaged by debris and glass.

On Monday, Lennie had surgery, which Lucille McKnight said went well, to repair three fingers on his right hand. But doctors on Wednesday still were trying to flush out all the debris in his eye.

“His recovery is going to take a little longer,” Lucille McKnight said, adding that Lennie was expected to be transferred soon to a rehabilitation center for physical therapy.

After Christine’s discharge late Friday, Thylicia McKnight elected to enter a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, according to her aunt. Lucille McKnight said it will be the woman’s first step toward a fresh start with her children.

“Getting my kids back has always been my plan,” Thylicia McKnight told the Review-Journal on Friday during an interview at the hospital.

As for Lucille McKnight, she said she is now shifting her energy to finding a bigger place for the family. The cozy three-bedroom they are in now just won’t cut it.

“Right now we’re sleeping on top of each other,” she said. “It’s not good for any of us.”

She has started a GoFundMe, and she said all the money raised from the campaign will go toward a new home and the children’s care.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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