Joanna Dixon of Brooklyn had been “so happy.” It was her 22nd birthday celebration and she was with her friends on the way home that early morning of Dec. 8.
Her co-workers at a real estate management company recalled that she had left work the Friday before smiling “from ear to ear,” and talking about how she looked forward to dancing on her birthday weekend.
But on Friday, Dec. 27, she was dressed in a white sequence dress and lying in rest inside a gray pine coffin, her hands clutching a bouquet of roses. Dixon died on Dec. 8 after the car she was riding in was struck by an off-duty cop, allegedly under the influence, driving a vehicles at an excessive speed.
The driver of the vehicle she was in, fled, leaving her and a female passenger severely injured against a telephone pole on Foster Avenue. As her family mourns her loss, they still wonder when justice will be served against those who led her to her death.
Her father, Collin Dixon, a deacon at the East End Baptist Church in East New York, while mourning his daughter, was also celebrating her life and the strength that his family has received from their church congregation at this time of sorrow.
Dixon, his wife, Joan, and Joanna’s younger brother, Jordan, were joined by their extended family from Jamaica who flew in for the final farewell in the little ivory-coated church on Van Siclen Avenue.
The East End Baptist Church was filled with family, friends and congregants who remembered Dixon as a part of this spiritual church going family, Pastor Woodward Proffit recalling her singing prayers with the youth church group not long ago.
“I remember that morning and people started to know what happened – the tears and expression of grief,” recalled Proffit. “We had bible study school that morning, and it turned into this amazingly emotional prayer meeting – a moment of strength from this congregation. Brother Dixon and his family’s relationship with Jesus and the gospel is so important to them and gives us the strength now to go through that and I won’t forget that.”
Her friends were in attendance as well. Edisha Stephen, 22, had spent that fateful evening with her before her drive home to Canarsie.
“We grew up in this church and I know her since 16-years-old,” Stephen sighed, thinking it could’ve been her in that crashed Mazda that night. “She was the life of the party – always laughing and never skipped a beat to flash a smile – that always spoke the truth.”
Dixon was working as a closing associate at Maxwell Cates Real Estate Company in Manhattan for the past seven months, she was seeking her liberal arts under graduate degree in accounting, according to her father. Two rows of co-workers at the company sat staring at the coffin with the woman they said, “never stopped smiling.”
“She was so excited about her birthday and how she looked forward to going out with her friends,” said her co-worker Brenda, who said they learned of the death on the news. “She had such a sweet soft manner – she loved her job and was always laughing. We pieced it together and it was just crazy. It just didn’t seem real.”
Her father led a prayer ceremony later on with Pastor Proffit, his family standing next to the coffin. The church deacon refused to lose faith.
“We are so gratified and full of joy that so many people are here,” he said upon pulling up to the church in a van loaded with his family.
Only an hour before, members of the 63rd Precinct Detective Squad made an appearance, paying their respects to the young woman – their work still yet to be complete as nobody has been prosecuted in this fatal crash.
Police officials say the driver of the Nissan that struck their vehicle on Foster Avenue and East 55th Street, identified as Rohan Shaw, 47, a cop in the counter terrorism unit, was booked on a slew of charges by police including manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless driving, speed violation and driving while alcohol impaired (DWAI).
However, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office “deferred prosecution” saying there was “insufficient evidence,” but the investigation remains ongoing. District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told AMNewYork that they would take their time and build a case carefully rather than rush the case into court.
Meanwhile, Shaw has been suspended from the NYPD, officials said.
The driver of the vehicle that Dixon and her unidentified friend were in, has still not been arrested and is also under investigation. Sources say the young woman’s parents are also in law enforcement and police are determined to see justice.
Only last week, detectives visited the Dixon home and reassured the father that they were working on the case.
The Dixon family were stunned when they learned prosecution had been “deferred” but they were confident justice would be served.
“Our heads are not in the right place right now, but I do believe in the justice system and I believe it will work,” Dixon had said. “I’m told they are waiting for some reports to come back and other things. I don’t want to pass judgment without all the facts.”
The Dixon family said their final farewell to Joanna, most in the audience were crying – her body to be interred at Canarsie Cemetery. As they closed the casket, the last thing that could be seen was the inscription on the door of the casket: “Your circle has been completed and now you’re safe in the arms of Jesus. we’re going to miss you – Mom, dad and Jordan.”