For days, Alicia Hayes couldn’t get her daughter to pick up her phone.
Michelle Hayes had stopped by her mom’s house for dinner on Friday, like she does most weeks, with husband Carlos Lee and their 4-year-old daughter Car-Shelle Lee in tow. They ate fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, visited, then packed up to head to their house in Little Woods just 10 minutes away.
“Y’all be careful going home,” Alicia Hayes recalled telling her daughter.
Michelle Hayes responded: “OK, momma. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
When there was no sign of her daughter on Saturday, Alicia Hayes began calling Michelle nonstop. When she couldn’t reach her, she arranged for someone to go to Michelle’s house. The family car was missing and no one was home.
Then Sunday, a frenetic Hayes heard the news: Authorities had found a woman, a man and a young girl dead inside of a car submerged in a New Orleans East canal.
A trip to the coroner’s office Monday confirmed her worst nightmare.
“I’m just dumbfounded,” said Hayes, welling up at her home in the West Lake Forest area Monday. “I know it was raining bad when they left — that may have a part in it. (But) I just don’t understand.”
Police have said little about what they think may have happened to the family before their car became submerged in the canal at Gannon and Morrison roads in New Orleans East. And late Monday, the Coroner’s Office had yet to release the identities of the deceased.
But several of Hayes’ relatives said investigators had privately confirmed the dead were Michelle, 42, Carlos, 39, and Car-Shelle.
The family, distraught, wants to know why there’s virtually no lighting at the corner where the accident happened. They’re also questioning why the vegetation on the banks of the canal is overgrown, and why there aren’t physical barriers along the canal to protect motorists.
“It’s very dangerous and can cause fatalities to anyone driving in that direction,” said Michelle Hayes’ stepbrother, Christopher Moore, the pastor of a church in the Leonidas neighborhood.
Moore said he and his family are hoping to get clarity from city officials. But for now, all they can do is try to help the couple’s three surviving sons — ages 5, 12 and 26 — cope with the tragedy.
Alicia Hayes, 63, said her family is close, and it got through the doldrums of the coronavirus lockdown by visiting each other when there was nowhere else to go.
“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” she said. “We’re not here forever. I understand that. But to lose someone in your family is hard — and I lost three.”