Chattanooga autism group mourns mom, volunteer

photo Cynthia Joyner

HOW TO HELPThose who wish to make a donation, make checks out to Ricardo Joyner, c/o Chattanooga Autism Center, 1400 McCallie Ave. Suite 100, Chattanooga, TN 37404.FUNERAL SERVICESFuneral arrangements are by Dash's Funeral Home of Blackville, near Orangeburg, S.C.


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A bouquet of lifelike flowers, colorful block toys and a photo of Cynthia Wild Joyner decorated a table at the Chattanooga Autism Center on Monday.

This is the center's memorial to Joyner, the local autism community's 2013 Volunteer of the Year. She was killed in a wrong-way, head-on crash in LaVergne, Tenn., Saturday.

Joyner, 31, was a wife and mother of two children, including a teenage son with autism.

"This is the worst fear for a mom [with a special-needs child]," said Alyce Benson, a clinical social worker who sees clients at the Chattanooga Autism Center. "They are typically the glue, the ones taking them to appointments, meeting with teachers, so they worry that if something happens to them, who is going to help [their children]?"

Joyner died in a collision on Interstate 24 in Rutherford County. She was one of three passengers in a 2012 Ford Fiesta. The two other passengers and driver, all Chattanooga-area residents, were injured.

The accident occurred when the driver of a 2003 Chevy Tahoe traveling west in the eastbound lanes of I-24 struck the Fiesta. After the accident, the other driver, identified as Pena P. Ruben, 35, fled on foot, police said.

The Chattanooga Autism Center expects to donate $6,000 to the Joyner family and encourages other public donations to assist the family.

A memorial service is planned in her honor, but the center is waiting until her family returns from Joyner's funeral in South Carolina to set a date.

"The Joyner family has experienced a tremendous loss," said Dave Buck, Chattanooga Autism Center's acting director.

The family is going to need additional support to care for their autistic son, he said.

"This is not just a regular sitter or a neighbor next door. They are going to need serious respite," said Buck.

The $6,000 is anticipated to come from the Pints for Autism fundraiser held Sunday. Joyner had initially coordinated the fundraiser hosted by Honest Pint for the Autism Center. But after her death, autism center officials had people write checks directly to the Joyner family.

Joyner's husband, Ricardo, works a swing shift at Volkswagen. So it was his wife who made sure that the kids got on the school bus and had what they needed for class, said Benson.

Joyner has been a huge support to the autism community, according to volunteers and parents at the autism center.

In 2012 she coordinated a fundraiser hosted by Honest Pint that raised more than $10,000 for the Chattanooga Autisim Center.

She also fostered relationships with movie theater officials that resulted in children with autism, some with sensitivities to loud noises, being able to watch a movie with the sound turned down. She met with law enforcement officers to inform them about autistic families and brought some children with autism to meet the officers.

Hearing of her death was devastating, said Chattanooga Autism Center parent volunteer Elizabeth Thornburgh. She worked with Joyner to organize events.

Joyner had her hand in everything for this center, she said.

Joyner was larger than life, said Benson.

"Tattoos, piercings, blue hair, changing it all the time," Benson said.

But Joyner's big goal, Benson said, was to educate people about autism and to change attitudes from being judgmental toward autistic children and their parents to being more understanding.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or call 423-757-6431.