The Church Road Bridge permanently closed on Monday, but until its ultimate destruction, it will serve as a shrine to a young life lost too soon.
Friends and family came out to the bridge and painted messages on it for Janie Queen, who died Oct. 18 when the car she was driving left the service road in front of the bridge and plunged into Slocum Creek.
The crash happened just four days before the bridge’s scheduled closure. It will eventually be demolished with a new bridge constructed.
Flowers, candles and balloons had already been placed at the bridge, but with its closure on Monday, friends and family armed with spray paint came out to turn the concrete span into a memorial.
“Honestly, I just think it’s a good comfort zone and a healing place for us,” friend Katie Faulkner said. “It’s what Janie would have wanted. She wouldn’t want us to be sad.”
Candace Holden, a 2008 graduate of Havelock High School and co-worker with Queen at the Carolina Grill restaurant, came up with the idea. She then called a number of city, county and transportation officials before finally getting permission to paint the messages on the 88-year-old bridge.
“It means a lot. It’s their finally goodbyes since this is going to be torn down eventually,” Holden said. “I think she loves it, and it means a lot to the family as well. I think it’s nice. It’s beautiful. We all enjoyed it. … We all came together and we all did it. We all came together as one big family and showed our support.”
Among the messages painted was one of Queen’s last posts on her Facebook page on Sept. 18: “Even on a cloudy day I keep my eyes focused on the SUN.”
“She wasn’t on Facebook too much,” Holden said. “She was too busy with her daily life going to the beach and working all the time. She surfed and she had a great tan.
She loved the beach.”
Holden said that when word of Queen’s death reached Carolina Grill last week, the restaurant closed.
“We closed because none of us could hold it together, not managers either,” she said. “It was nothing we could do. We all had to shut down. None of us could stop crying or freaking out.
“It was pretty bad. She’s somebody that everybody should have met and whoever met her, even if they only spoke to her once, she left an impact, even if they only said one or two words. Everybody knows her. She’s bright. She’s an angel, before she was an angel.”
Friend Brittany Holton said painting messages on the bridge shows Queen how much everyone cares.
“People loved Janie, really, really loved her,” Holton said. “She was a genuine, sweet, caring, funny person.”
Jahsanti Davis, Queen’s younger brother, was among those writing messages on the bridge. He said his sister would have been painting up the bridge, too.
“I think she would be painting ‘thank you’ to everyone and hearts and kisses and stuff like that,” he said.
Friend Sonny Courtney said Queen was always smiling.
“She was definitely a very loving person,” he said. “She was always happy. You never saw her without a smile. You’d never see her with a frown.”
Among those at the bridge Monday was Smiley Pool, a photographer with the Houston Chronicle. He documented some of Queen’s early medical challenges for a story in that paper in 1999 and became friends with the family.
Queen was born with the HIV virus in 1992. Her biological mother was in a psychiatric hospital, and other family members did not want raise a child with such a disease. But Sandra and Michael Queen of Havelock adopted her, knowing she may not have lived beyond first grade.
Advances in care, and a regiment of as many as 20 pills per day, allowed Queen to not only continue living but to also prosper.
She was popular at Havelock High School. She became a cheerleader, played on the softball team and served on the student council.
“It’s been hard to be on the outside of it, but it has been really comforting to see how Havelock has supported her and the family and the way everybody has come out,” Pool said. “You can’t say enough about how much comfort that brought people far away that she had touched to know that so many people here cared so much about her. This kind of really public outpouring of support really helps people to grieve together. People in Havelock might not know how many people Janie touched all around the world.”
As paint was going on the bridge, Holton was among those looking to the water below and tossing flowers into the creek.
“She was so strong. She’s been through so much struggle. She never let anything affect her,” Holton said. “She always did it with a smile. She lit up a room when she walked in. She meant a lot to everybody. She was really a legacy around here from cheerleading, softball, student council, just everything. She’s going to really be missed.”