LAFAYETTE, Ga. — The night of Oct. 7 returns to Lucinda Sasser in disjointed scenes, like a horror film chopped to bits.
But she clearly remembers watching her boyfriend exit their trailer, at 1039 Old Dalton Road. Daniel Chad Marks then beckoned to her.
"Come to me now," he said, "'cause you won't like it if I come to you."
Sasser walked toward him. He grabbed her and pulled her tight against his body.
"I love you," he said. "I've never loved anybody so much in my life. I'm sorry."
"For what?" she asked.
Marks didn't answer. He told her to get in the Jeep Cherokee. She didn't want to, but she was afraid.
Both 35, the two had known each other since middle school and been together since June 2012, when Marks came over to break one of Sasser's family's mustangs. They hit it off, and about eight months later Sasser gave birth to a daughter named Averie Marks.
Marks had twice been arrested for battery, first in 2006 and then in 2010. And Sasser said he hit her once before, but he cried and begged for forgiveness afterward. This time, though, he seemed different.
"It wasn't him," she said. "It was like looking into the eyes of the devil."
So Sasser got in the car, and Marks drove off, breaking through a gate on the property. Sasser would later say she didn't know that, just minutes earlier, Marks had killed her 63-year-old father, Roy Leonard McKeehan Jr.
According to the Walker County Sheriff's Office, McKeehan and Marks got into an argument inside Sasser's trailer. Someone had a lead pipe, though police won't speculate on who it was, or what was intended. But they do know this: During the argument, Marks pulled out a gun and shot McKeehan through the throat.
But Sasser said she had no idea. Two weeks later, she struggles to believe it.
"It still ain't set in," she said. "It's still like a nightmare that I want to wake up from."
Marks and her father, who lived in another house on the same property, always got along fine. They never argued, and Marks used to fix McKeehan's vehicles.
Sometimes, Sasser said, Marks and McKeehan would talk for hours. This didn't surprise family members. McKeehan loved to talk.
"He never met a stranger," said Anita, his wife of 42 years.
McKeehan and Marks would chat about how to improve McKeehan's land. They planned to expand his pig lot and raise a dam together one day.
But on Oct. 7, Marks seemed disturbed by something. While Sasser changed their baby's diaper that afternoon, Marks came in and yelled at her. She said he then hit her, and she left the trailer.
Later that day, she came back. Marks still seemed angry, and they argued. She left again, but this time McKeehan heard the yelling. He asked his daughter what was wrong.
"If I hadn't said something, Daddy wouldn't have been up there," Sasser said. "If I hadn't told him about our earlier altercation, then Daddy wouldn't have come up there, and it wouldn't have happened."
Soon after, she was riding down the road with Marks, unsure why he seemed distraught or where they were going. First, they stopped at the home of Marks' other children. After a quick visit there, they drove down to Trion.
They stopped for gas and got back on the road. A couple of Chattooga County Sheriff's Office cars began to follow them at the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and Back Penn Road. But Marks didn't stop. More officers began to follow, flashing their emergency lights.
Marks kept driving, speeding up now.
Sasser says she still didn't know what was happening. She says Marks told her that he loved her, over and over, and that he was sorry. She didn't understand.
She started to feel sick.
They crossed into Cherokee County, Ala., police cars and blue lights still in the rearview mirror.
She began to shiver.
On County Road 41 near Ringgold Crossroads, Marks ran over a spike strip that Cherokee County officers had placed on the road. But he kept driving, slowing down now, about a quarter mile farther.
"Baby," he said to Sasser, "hold on."
He jerked the wheel as hard as he could to the left. Sasser felt a bump, the vehicle's tires dropping off the road. She heard a gunshot, fell forward, and felt ice water from a cooler in the back seat soak her clothes.
She and Marks had crashed into a ditch.
She looked to her left, to Marks.
He was hunched forward, his body leaning against the wheel. Police would later say he took his own life.
"Show your hands!" she heard officers yelling behind her, then next to her, on the other side of a foggy window. She kept hers up, but they kept yelling.
"Driver," someone yelled, "show your hands!"
She called back, trying to explain the situation. But the officers kept yelling at Marks, kept telling him to lift his arms. Finally, Sasser said, she raised her voice as loud as she could, and the officers understood.
"He can't!" she said. "He's dead!"
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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