COMO, MS (abc24.com) - Deputies say a 61-year-old Mississippi man was intentionally hit and killed while walking on the side of the road in Panola County on Sunday, July 22.
17-year-old Matthew Whitten Darby is charged with his murder. Investigators say Darby purposefully ran down John Butts, possibly for the color of his skin.
Butts was a cancer survivor and Sunday school teacher. He liked to exercise before church. His family says Butts always stayed well away from traffic. Investigators tell us that didn't matter yesterday.
"The car came over purposely to hit him," says the victim's sister, Patricia Jones. "When John walked he was all the way on the opposite side. He didn't get in the street. He wasn't by anyone. They came off the road -- that's what gets me."
John Butts died on Highway 310 in Como. A few orange markings show the spot he was hit around seven Sunday morning.
"They left him," Jones says. "They just ran over him like he was roadkill in the street and kept going."
Investigators say a car of three white teenage boys ran Butts down. Darby was driving.
"From what we know right now it does look like an intentional act," District Attorney John Champion tells abc24.com.
Darby was arrested after a tip.
As for why Butts was hit, and if race was a motive, "That's something we're looking at. We're not ruling anything out on that right now," Champion says.
For Butts' family, the "why" will come later. Right now their loss is too hard to comprehend.
In 2006 they say Butts was hit by a train. He broke his neck and while in the hospital doctors discovered he had colon cancer.
"He survived all of that six years and two months ago," Jones says. "(Sunday) he was walking to better himself to get healthy," Jones says. "He'd lost so much weight. By him exercising to lose weight it cost him his life."
"The relief will come when justice is done," adds his other sister Linda Jones. "We know his soul is with the Lord, but justice has to be done."
Darby is being held at the Panola County Jail. The teen is facing a life sentence.
Both he and one of his two passengers, a 15-year-old, have also both been charged with burglary of a church. Investigators say they committed that crime before the hit and run.
The other teen in the car has not been charged.