NEWTON, N.C. — When Jefferson Heavner heard a car was stuck in the snow near where he grew up, he and three friends hopped in his pickup truck to help – something he’d done since he was a boy riding along with his father.

But his offer of help turned into a deadly encounter, North Carolina authorities say: An intoxicated man who had spun out became belligerent after bystanders decided to call police instead of pushing his car out. He shot and killed Heavner and then stood over him, firing several more shots.

Jessica Heavner said her brother was carrying on a tradition in Friday’s snowstorm started by their father, who died in a car crash 13 years ago.

“We always had some type of 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we would go out and look for people who had spun out in the ditches,” Jessica Heavner said, recalling snowstorms when she was growing up. “It was something we always did to help out people in the community.”

Sheriff Coy Reid has said Marvin Jacob Lee, 27, was stuck on the side of the road, and those helping him could tell he was drunk or on drugs. Jessica Heavner, who has spoken to witnesses and investigators, said several neighbors had also come out to help, and one of them tried to take Lee’s keys away.

The gunfire scattered the people who had gathered around the car. Jessica Heavner said her 26-year-old brother was between the gunman and friends when he was shot, and one credits him with saving her life. The woman is the girlfriend of her brother’s best friend and recently found out she is pregnant.

“He took a bullet when it could have been someone else,” Jessica Heavner said.

No one else was wounded.

Annette Medlin, who lives just down the street from the crime scene in Catawba County, heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots Friday afternoon.

“It sounded like four or five shots: Boom, boom, boom, boom,” she said. “It’s really close to home. … Kind of unreal.”

Jefferson Heavner died several miles from where he grew up; Jessica Heavner said her brother had called her about going out Friday, but she was busy.

“It’s just something that was tradition, our thing to do,” Jessica Heavner said. “Every time we went to do that, we’d think about our dad.”

Stranded drivers thanked them profusely for what the brother and sister considered “playing in the snow,” and they never accepted money, she said. On Monday, she recalled going out with him during a snowstorm in 2015.

Heavner said that she knew Lee in high school but doesn’t think her brother knew him well, if at all. She said she steered clear of Lee.

Lee appeared in court Monday on a murder charge and was ordered held without bond.


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