Enquirer Herald

Drag racing sentencing doesn’t sit well with Furr's friends, family

The sister of the Winthrop University professor killed in a 2009 crash that also killed the professor’s daughter and a Clover teen said the prison sentence given Tuesday to one of the speeding drivers was “not enough for three lives.”

“I wasn’t expecting much more after the other driver received his sentence,” Sharon Furr said after Carlene Atkinson pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

“But it does not seem fair, not right, after three lives were lost ... the curtain of pain has finally fallen.”

Cynthia Furr, 45, and her 2-year-old daughter, McAllister, were killed when Furr’s Mercedes was struck by a car driven at high speeds by Tyler Stasko, 23, who police say was racing Atkinson on N.C. 49 near Lake Wylie. Hunter Holt, 13, a Clover Junior High student and a passenger in Stasko’s car, also was killed.

Stasko was sentenced to 45 months in prison in December. The two cars reached speeds close to 100 mph before Stasko’s car crashed into Furr’s vehicle just north of the state line near the Buster Boyd Bridge.

The speeding and recklessness of the drivers still appalls Sharon Furr, pointing out that Atkinson, a mother, should have known better than to have fled the scene after the crash rather than trying to help.

“A moment of weakness has created a lifetime of misery for us,” Furr said, referring to herself and her parents, Jean and Joe Furr. All three live in rural Chester County.

The Furrs were not told of Tuesday’s hearing and only found out Atkinson had pleaded guilty when a family friend saw the news on television at noon.

After her sister’s death, Furr created the CindyMackie Foundation, named in honor of both her sister and niece. The foundation awards scholarships and grants to aspiring teachers and young people in the arts.

Colleagues say Cynthia Furr, an English professor and musician, inspired many Winthrop students, and high school students before that, to pursue careers in teaching and the performing arts.

Steve Case studied under Furr at Winthrop. He now teaches English at Winthrop and York Technical College.

“Dr. Furr was my mentor,” he said. “As a teacher, I try to emulate her – although, I don’t think it’s possible, since she was a force of nature.

“However, she was also my friend, and, even though it’s been over three years, I still really miss being able to talk to her about what’s going on in my life or hers.”

Case called Atkinson’s sentence “a travesty.”

“It’s outrageous that she will spend less than three years (in prison) for being half responsible for the deaths of three people,” he said. “More than that, I’m disgusted that she used an Alford plea, so that she pleads ‘guilty’ without really pleading guilty.”

Most students Furr taught have graduated and have gone on to teach around South Carolina, Winthrop English professor Jo Koster said.

“It still astonishes me that she’s not here,” Koster said. “I still find myself looking for her. The ripples of her influence continue to shape education in York County.”

Furr even taught a kickboxing class at Winthrop, she said, and was active in her church, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, where she was minister of music.

“You never saw her not busy,” Koster said.

Hunter Holt’s mother, Lisa Holt, talked in court Tuesday about the loss of her son, who played football at Clover Junior High, loved playing baseball and watching the UNC Tar Heels play basketball.

Hunter also attended New River Community Church in Lake Wylie.

“I will never hear his voice or laughter,” Holt told the judge, calling Atkinson “heartless and soulless.”

Gary L. Wright of the Charlotte Observer contributed.