The moon was nearly full.
Joyce Hull and Linda Hull Arant were making the drive home from a picture-perfect Christmas celebration in Oxford.
The Delta sky was clear, and they were just a few miles from Indianola when their lives were suddenly cut short.
As the two ladies came into Itta Bena, driving a 2002 Cadillac Seville, a 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis slammed into the driver’s side as the automobile attempted to cross U.S. 82 onto County Road 515, seemingly without as much as a pump on the brakes.
Behind the wheel of the Mercury was then 53-year-old Jerry Lee Ross of Picayune. According to Hull’s family, the impact was so hard it knocked the diamond out of the ring she was wearing.
“They never knew what hit them,” Judy Hull Job, Joyce’s daughter and Linda’s sister, told The Enterprise-Tocsin in a recent phone interview. “I’ve found comfort in that. I really have. They didn’t suffer, and for that, we are so grateful. … I’m sure Mama was asleep, and she woke up looking into the face of Jesus. For several years, her famous line had been, ‘I just want to wake up dead one day!’ So I feel like God gave her that gift.”
Both women were prominent members of the Indianola community.
Joyce Hull spent years as the office manager of Hull Brothers Clinic — now Indianola Family Medical Clinic — which was co-founded by her husband, Dr. Wallace Arnold Hull.
Linda Hull Arant earned high marks in school as well as holding state records in track and field competitions. She would go to the Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women) and later return to Sunflower County, where she was a music teacher for decades at North Sunflower Academy and Indianola Academy.
She played piano at First United Methodist Church in Indianola, as well as numerous Mid-Delta Arts Association productions. She also appeared on stage in multiple MDA productions.
Joyce Hull’s surviving daughters, Judy and Marsha Hull Tindall — along with the rest of the family and friends — waited an agonizing 23 months for Ross to be indicted. It was another year before they would hear him finally plead guilty in court.
And on Feb. 1, just 10 days before Ross was set to be sentenced in a Leflore County courtroom, he died in Chicago. A cause of death has not been confirmed.
During the last three years, the Hull family has had no contact with Ross’ camp. Judy said that during the plea hearing, he never looked in their direction.
His passing brings the saga to a close, but it was not the closure Judy and Marsha had hoped for.
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Joyce and Linda were passionate about their work and spread love and joy through the arts and civic leadership along the way.
“Last night at a party, a lady said to me, ‘I just loved your mother. She was the kindest, most wonderful person I have ever known in my life,’” Judy said. “I think that everyone who knew her just loved her. She was so thoughtful of other people. I feel so blessed she was my mother.”
Aside from running the clinic, Joyce volunteered her time teaching a Sunday School class in the Junior Department at First United Methodist, one that was named for her prior to her passing. For years, she taught every kid in the church the books of the Bible through song. She was involved in the Mid-Delta Arts Association and appeared on stage multiple times, including a memorable performance in “Steel Magnolias.”
Joyce had always enjoyed playing bridge and was very good at it, but she relished those games even more in her later years.
Linda was the All-American girl in high school. She wasn’t just the school’s top female athlete. She was Class Favorite, Star Student, Head Cheerleader and Valedictorian.
She was both musically and athletically gifted, and she made straight A’s in school. During her senior year, she was named Miss Indianola Academy. At IA, she became known as both teacher and friend to many of her pupils.
“All the children loved her,” Judy said. “She was a standout in high school, and she came back from college to teach in Indianola, and ‘her children,’ as she called them, just adored her. … She made a difference in so many people’s lives.”
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Joyce was just shy of her 92nd birthday when Christmas 2015 rolled around.
It had become tradition that the Hull family meet in Oxford, where the Tindall family had two condos next door to each other.
Joyce and Linda arrived on Christmas Eve, where the rest of the family awaited them.
That night, Marsha’s husband Frank cooked a beef tenderloin, and several members of the family were present, including Joyce’s children, grandchildren and her sons-in-law.
“It was a magnificent night,” Judy said. “The food was wonderful. The conversation was great. I remember sitting next to Mama, and she said, ‘I think this is the best night of my life.’ I have chills when I think about it. It was all just so perfect.”
Later that evening, and again on Christmas night, Judy and Marsha would see Joyce to bed.
“After the wreck, I was laying there in the wee hours of the morning, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. I got to tuck her in and tell her how much I loved her the last two nights of her life. What a gift that was,’” Judy said.
During the Christmas Day festivities, Judy made it a point to gather her sisters and Joyce around the Christmas tree for a family photo. “That ended up being a beautiful treasure,” Judy said.
When it came time for Linda and Joyce to leave, they shared hugs and kisses.
“She was always looking up at me with tears in her eyes, having a hard time saying goodbye, wondering when she was going to see us again,” Judy said. “This time, she got in the car, she faced forward and she was staring straight ahead. It was so different. That action, that look, haunted me, because she always looked back longingly, like ‘I love you and I don’t want to leave.’ It was as though she had already begun to slip away.”
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Joyce and Linda pulled off for gas in Batesville, a move that placed them exactly at the intersection of 82 and 515 when that Mercury came onto the highway at a high rate of speed.
“I got a call on my condo phone from the Indianola Police Department,” Marsha said. “I could not understand a word he was saying. I had to keep saying, ‘Could you repeat that? Could you repeat that?’ I finally got that he was saying the Cadillac that was traveling got hit. He said, ‘Both of the occupants are deceased.’”
She walked out to the patio, where the family was preparing to celebrate Marsha’s daughter-in-law Georgia Tindall’s birthday.
“I saw her put the phone down,” Judy said. “She walked out, and she turned the TV off, and I thought, ‘This is not going to be good.’ Her words were, ‘Mama and Linda have been in a wreck. They’re both dead.’ … Our world just stopped.”
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By all accounts available, Jerry Lee Ross was born on Aug. 7, 1962, in Leflore County and was raised in Itta Bena.
He was a graduate of Leflore County High School, where he was a standout athlete, according to his obituary. He received a full athletic scholarship to Kentucky State University, and he was known for his live fastball.
He was a dedicated Christian and had married in 2017, two years after the crash. At the time of the wreck, he was living in Picayune, according to Mississippi Highway Patrol reports.
According to Leflore County Assistant District Attorney Timothy Jones, Ross’ blood tested positive for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana on the night of the accident.
Ross was transported to Greenville’s Delta Regional Medical Center with minor injuries immediately after the wreck.
Months went by before the family heard the results of the toxicology report. They had originally been told that there were no drugs or alcohol involved.
In November 2017, Ross stood in a Leflore County courtroom for the first time. His bond was set, and according to Judy, he spent at the most two days in jail before his bond was posted.
The family would have to wait another year to hear Ross plead guilty to the charges, two counts of DUI death. Facing a maximum of two five-year terms running concurrently, Ross’ attorney asked the court to postpone sentencing until the winter session. The judge complied and moved the date to Feb. 11. Ross was again a free man.
“We came away saying, ‘What about us? We want the sentencing now,’” Judy said.
Some believe that had there been a sentencing, it may have resulted in the minimum sentence of five years and probation. “I really think that might have happened, and that would have been really hard to deal with,” Judy said.