NEWTON, N.C. (AP) — When Jefferson Heavner heard a car was stuck in the snow near where he grew up, he and three friends hopped in his pickup truck to help — something he'd done since he was a boy riding along with his father.
But his offer of help turned into a deadly encounter, North Carolina authorities say: An intoxicated man who had spun out became belligerent after bystanders decided to call police instead of pushing his car out. He knocked Heavner down with a bullet and then stood over him, firing several more shots.
Jessica Heavner said her brother was carrying on a tradition in Friday's snowstorm started by their father, who died in a car crash 13 years ago.
"We always had some type of 4-wheel drive vehicle, and we would go out and look for people who had spun out in the ditches," Jessica Heavner said, recalling snowstorms when she was growing up. "It was something we always did to help out people in the community."
Sheriff Coy Reid has said Marvin Jacob Lee, 27, was stuck on the side of the road, and those helping him could tell he was drunk or on drugs. Jessica Heavner, who has spoken to witnesses and investigators, said several neighbors had also come out to help, and one of them tried to take Lee's keys away.
The gunfire scattered the people who had gathered around the car. Jessica Heavner said her 26-year-old brother was between the gunman and friends when he was shot, and one credits him with saving her life. The woman is the girlfriend of her brother's best friend and recently found out she is pregnant.
"He took a bullet when it could have been someone else," Jessica Heavner said.
No one else was wounded.
Annette Medlin, who lives just down the street from the crime scene in Catawba County, heard the unmistakable sound of gunshots Friday afternoon, followed by the arrival of numerous cars with flashing lights.
"It sounded like four or five shots: Boom, boom, boom, boom," she said. "It's really close to home. ... Kind of unreal."
Jefferson Heavner died several miles from where he grew up; Jessica Heavner said her brother had called her about going out Friday, but she was busy.
"It's just something that was tradition, our thing to do," Jessica Heavner said. "Every time we went to do that, we'd think about our dad."
Stranded drivers thanked them profusely for what the brother and sister considered "playing in the snow," and they never accepted money, she said. On Monday, she recalled going out with him during a snowstorm in 2015.
"The last snowstorm we had, he called and said 'I've got my four-wheel drive! You want to come along?' We went out for two solid days pulling people out of ditches," she said.
Just before the shooting, Heavner had been at the Goldmine convenience store, which his sister described as a "hangout spot" in the small town.
A clerk and manager there said he was very friendly and frequently stopped in.
"We're really upset about it," said manager Cyndi Miller. "I mean, where do you draw a line on helping someone? We just don't know."
Jessica Heavner said that she knew Lee in high school but doesn't think her brother knew him well, if at all. She said she steered clear of Lee, though she doesn't recall any specific altercations.
"When I found out who it was that did this, chills shot up my spine," she said.
Lee appeared in court Monday on a murder charge and was ordered held without bond.
Defense attorney Victoria Jayne said she met with him for the first time Monday.
"He is very, very sad," she said. "Seems very depressed. ... Just seems very confused about everything that happened. He doesn't recall a lot."
She doesn't know if authorities tested him for alcohol or drugs. He had bruises on his face, but she's not sure if those came from the impact of the crash or a subsequent altercation.
Jessica Heavner said her brother loved to hunt and work on cars. He'd worked until recently as a lineman for a cable television provider, but his contract had run out.
Most of all he loved the infant son he was raising as a single father.
"You couldn't have asked for a better father," she said. "When he came around, his son would just light up: 'Dad, dad, dad, dad.' When one of us was babysitting him, after two or three hours, he'd start looking at the door."
Playing in the yard was one of her brother's favorite activities with the boy, she said, adding: "He became a child when he was around his own child."
Drew reported from Durham, North Carolina.