Man dies in Rock Hill shooting; 2 arrested

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comSeptember 12, 2013 

— There was no question who Clay Henderson wanted in his kitchen behind the grill when he and his wife opened a second Rock Hill location for their salad and sandwich shop three years ago.

Johnny Lee Ellison.

“As soon as we put in a grill, Clay said, ‘I need Johnny,’” Debbie Henderson said Friday.

Ellison, 34, was killed Thursday in Rock Hill’s first homicide of the year. Police say two brothers angry that Ellison won money in a card game shot and stabbed him to death Thursday night before they fled and later tussled with officers on concrete and in briar patches.

At about 8:17 p.m., police were called to 839 Green St. after receiving calls about a shooting, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department.

Officers had already been in the area when they heard the shots go off.

By the time police arrived, Ellison lay in the yard, suffering from stab wounds and a gunshot to his head.

He was taken to Piedmont Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead in the emergency room, said York County Coroner Sabrina Gast. An autopsy was performed, but a cause of death has not been released.

Meanwhile, David Denorris Williams, 32, and his brother, Jaris Nigel Williams, 29, walked along Green Street away from the crime scene, police said. When officers approached them, the Williams men backed away and ran, police say.

Jaris Williams fled behind a house and through a small wood line as he reached into his shorts. The officer tackled Jaris Williams into a briar patch and handcuffed him, according to a Rock Hill Police report. Police found a baggie of eight crack cocaine rocks on the ground.

David Williams also resisted and fought with officers until his arrest, police say.

Both Williams men, who live at 805 Carolina Ave., were charged with resisting arrest. Jaris Williams faces additional charges for crack cocaine possession in proximity to a park, resisting arrest with an injury to an officer and failure to identify. David Williams also was charged with public disorderly conduct.

By noon Friday, they were charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and possession of a weapon during a violent crime in connection with Ellison’s slaying. They were being held Friday evening at the city jail without bond.

“They had no good reason for being in the area and fleeing from police,” Bollinger said.

Neither man gave a statement to police, Bollinger said. He could not say what led police to charge the brothers with murder, but he did say that several witnesses pointed to the brothers as being the triggermen.

Police spent much of Friday speaking with witnesses and following leads. Joining with a York County Sheriff’s Office K9 unit, they combed through a patch of woods on Green Street searching for weapons. They were unsuccessful.

Police have no indication that Ellison was armed. No other injuries were reported in the shooting, and no other suspects were charged, though Bollinger said the investigation continues.

Linda Feaster, who lives in the house across from where police say Ellison was shot, said the activity Thursday night started as soon as it became dark outside.

Feaster, 62, said she and her elderly parents heard a single gunshot. Her 83-year-old mother was so shaken, she said, that she had to be taken to Piedmont Medical Center for treatment.

A Green Street resident for 40 years, Feaster said the area receives a bad reputation from people who come into the neighborhood and cause trouble.

Unwelcome guests "bring attention to Green Street,” she said.

Both Williams brothers have criminal histories. David Williams in 1999 was convicted of resisting arrest, court records show, and several arrests in subsequent years included charges for assault and battery with intent to kill, robbery and drug possession, which resulted in nonconvictions.

Jaris Williams in 2000 was sentenced under the Youthful Offender Act to two years of probation for possession of crack cocaine, according to records with the State Law Enforcement Division. A year later, he received two more years of probation for malicious injury to personal property. In 2004, he was sentenced to five years in prison for failure to stop for a blue light, unlawful carrying of a weapon and possession of a stolen pistol.

His youthful offender status was revoked and he was sent to the state Department of Corrections when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manufacturing crack cocaine and distributing crack cocaine within proximity to a school.

Ellison’s work ethic was renowned among Rock Hill’s restaurant community, friends and co-workers say.

He started washing dishes at the former Thursday’s Too restaurant on Herlong Avenue about 15 years ago.

Within the last three years, he grilled burgers at the Southern Salads & Sandwich Co. restaurant beside the Food Lion on Ebenezer Road.

“He was here all the time,” carrying a full-time workload six days a week, said Debbie Henderson, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Clay Henderson. He had “long days and short days.”

Thursday was a short day. He left work early. He would not be coming back.

Ellison rode his bike to work each morning after years of walking. He showed up at work without fail, unless his son was sick. He spent time with Clay Henderson at the bar, and, according to family members, liked to dance and have a good time.

“He had a smile that would light up the room,” said Shan McDonald, former manager of Thursday’s Too and Ellison’s longtime friend. “His laugh was about as annoying as it was contagious. He was there for his son. He was the best dad.”

His son is 10. On Friday morning, a family member said the impact of his father’s death had not yet “hit.” He didn’t realize, she said, that his “father would not be coming home.”

The youngest of four children, Ellison graduated from Northwestern High School and had been in a relationship with his son’s mother for more than a decade.

For years, Debbie Henderson worked at Thursday’s Too with Ellison before she and her husband opened their eatery eight years ago.

He made his son the “most important thing in his life,” she said.

Years ago, Clay Henderson, who at the time managed another restaurant, said he often visited Thursday’s Too and would spend time with Ellison at the bar while waiting for his wife to get off work.

In the restaurant business, “you’ve got to love each other,” he said. “I loved Johnny very much.”

Kathy Bigham, who for years owned Thursday’s Too with her husband, Larry Bigham, said Ellison was “very dependable, respectful, trustworthy” and “easy to get along with.”

He was also a quiet “hugger,” she said. “He loved his son. He was the light of Johnny’s life.”

Larry Bigham took Ellison under his wing, acting as a mentor and guide, Kathy Bigham said.

“We saw him grow and mature,” she said. “We were glad we could have been a small part of his life.”

He left his job at Thursday’s Too as a kitchen shift supervisor.

The Bighams sold Thursday’s Too about three years ago, the same time the Hendersons moved their restaurant to Ebenezer Road. Clay Henderson already had his eyes set on Ellison for his kitchen and used a quick work break to snag him.

“I said, ‘I need you,’” he said.

Ellison went back to McDonald and asked her if it was a good move. She told him he would be stupid not to go.

So he did.

“We argued like brothers and sisters,” McDonald said. “But at the end of the day, he had my back and I had his.”

If McDonald needed Ellison, she only had to pick up the phone.

“He would protect me, he would help me, he would listen to me,” she said.

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