This is one of the saddest and most unnecessary wastes I have heard of in a while:
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
The parade was over, and Tom Jones had parked his eye-catching ride, Swamp Mutha, inside the Art Car Museum.
He and two friends sat on the curb in front of the museum, reveling in the afterglow of their pet public art exhibition — Houston’s Art Car Parade.
As they shot the breeze just after 2 a.m., a speeding Pontiac crested the railroad tracks on Heights Boulevard. The driver was going so fast when he hit a parked Toyota Camry 50 feet away that Jones’ friend Dion Laurent only had time to think one word.
The parked car launched into them, flinging Laurent against the fence and pinning Jones and his other friend.
“They were in agony,” Laurent said, shuddering.
Jones, a pillar of the Art Car community and curator for the Art Car Museum, died Sunday morning from internal injuries. The other two men survived.
The 51-year-old artist, an accomplished photographer, videographer and Art Car designer, had driven one of the museum’s centerpieces in Saturday’s parade: a 1982 Chevrolet Monte Carlo adorned with crabs, crawfish, alligator skulls and shellacked armadillos. Swamp Mutha symbolizes Houston’s urban frontier, according to its museum plaque.
After entertaining crowds along Allen Parkway on Saturday afternoon, Jones, his friends, and some of the 300 other art car drivers staged their own personal parade, rigging their floats with lights and embarking on a nightime tour of the Heights and downtown. Bands followed on flatbed trailers, and the parade made stops so artists could mingle. It’s a tradition called the Illuminated Cruise, and it’s meant more for the artists than for spectators.
The cruise had gotten a later than usual start Saturday night. While some participants returned to the museum afterward, Jones and his friends were the last ones there.
Jones had just locked up the museum, and the three men were winding down from the day when the car jumped the curb. Witnesses said the driver appeared drunk and refused to take a Breathalyzer test before he was arrested early Sunday morning. Police said criminal charges are pending.
The bitter irony of Jones’ death — hours after the silly, spunky celebration he had nurtured since it began two decades ago — made it all the more senseless for those who knew him.
“We just had a wonderful, great day,” said Art Car Museum director Noah Edmundson, shaking his head. “There’s no sense. I’m numb. I’m actually, physically numb.”
Jones’ friend Laurent visited the museum again on Sunday to try to make sense of it himself. He walked to the railroad tracks, then back to where the trio was sitting. He hadn’t slept all night.
“I just don’t see how it could have happened. It was so fast,” Laurent said, staring at the stretch of sidewalk. “We were talking about what a great day and a great bunch of events this had been.”
On Sunday afternoon, fellow artists rendered a memorial at the crash site.
Amy Lynch strung zebra-striped streamers from the museum fence. Nicole Strine, president of the Houston Art Car Klub, hung tiny disco balls.
“Tom is not a disco queen, but my art car is. That’s why I’m hanging these,” Strine said, nodding toward Shattered Vanity, a 1997 Honda Accord covered in cut mirrors. “We are encouraging artists to bring pieces of themselves to remember Tom.”
A ‘tight’ community
Jones is survived by his college sweetheart and partner of 32 years, Becky Sargent.
Funeral details have not been announced. For his fellow artists, though, Jones’ death cast a pall over the zany festival.
“It’s a pretty tight community,” said Erik Kolflat.
As Sunday afternoon wore on, Heights Boulevard offered a reprise of Saturday’s parade, but with a markedly different mood, as dozens of artists arrived in Art Cars to pay their respects.
For the drivers of the Roachster, a car shaped like a giant cockroach, it was a morose metamorphosis from the day before, when they had wriggled their fingers like antennae for cheering crowds.
On Sunday, the parade became a procession.
So. Freaking. Sad.,