December 23, 2013
by Nancy McLaughlin, News-Record.com
The championship ring of Junior Robinson, who died in an automobile accident in September 1995, was recently returned 18 years later to his wife Sandra Robinson-Wilson and son David Robinson
Lu Wall Jacobs began rambling. It had taken her 20 minutes just to pick up the telephone and dial the number.
Her words weren’t coming out as she intended after ending up in Sandra Robinson-Wilson’s voice mailbox on Nov. 30.
“I have something that belongs to your husband from 18 years ago,” she said, realizing she sounded like a mistress with a confession.
“Let me start over. That didn’t come out right at all. I do not know you. I do not know your husband. I do not know your son.”
Jacobs and her husband Dean own the towing company called to a wreck in 1995 that killed a former Andrews High School and NFL player — David Lee “Junior” Robinson Jr.
Jacobs had something they had been holding onto for 18 years, something she wanted to return — especially to the then-infant son who followed in his father’s steps at Andrews and as a freshman football player at East Carolina University.
She put down the telephone and waited. “I didn’t know what kind of wounds it would reopen,” Jacobs said.
When Robinson-Wilson — who has since remarried — saw the missed call, she dialed the number right back. She listened to a woman detailing what it had taken to find her. “I was just like, what could this be — a joke?” she said.
David “Junior” Robinson was one of the biggest names out of Andrews. “He was very fast, very quick — picked up things very easily,” said Herb Goins Jr., the former Andrews football coach.
Goins has never forgotten the first-round playoffs in 1985, when he coached Andrews and Junior Robinson, No. 21.
“Burlington Williams had to punt to us and Junior returned the punt all the way for a touchdown, as time expired.” he said. “It was one of the greatest plays I had ever seen.”
The team lost in overtime, but Robinson was on his way to East Carolina, where he would lead the team in interceptions.
While there, he met the sociable but bookish Sandra George. When he asked her out, she didn’t know he was a star football player. She just liked his smile and his persistence.
He never boasted about the letters that arrived bearing emblems of NFL teams, including one from the Dallas Cowboys that Robinson-Wilson still has.
Robinson was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1990 in the fifth round, the 110th pick overall.
Robinson played every game during his rookie season, returning 11 kickoffs for 211 yards, averaging 19.2 yards per return.
During the off-season in 1992, Robinson played for the World Football League. In 1993, he joined the Canadian Football League and played in Sacramento, Calif., where he won a championship ring.
He was a starting defensive back with the Memphis Mad Dogs and living in Tennessee in 1995, when he brought his young family back home to the Triad that weekend in late September. His friends had planned a gathering in High Point and his large, extended family would get to meet David III — just shy of two months old.
With Robinson’s Mercedes scheduled for servicing, they drove a rental to Winston-Salem, where they planned to stay with Robinson-Wilson’s parents.
They took separate cars from there to High Point. Robinson drove the rental and stayed later than his wife and baby.
Wide awake at 3 a.m., Robinson-Wilson suddenly got the feeling something was very wrong.
Dean Jacobs of Dean’s Robinhood Auto & Towing in Winston-Salem was next on the rotation on Sept. 30, 1995, when police called about a head-on collision on Interstate 40.
Robinson was traveling in the wrong direction near the Stratford Road exit. “The front of his car looked like one of those accordions,” Jacobs said.
Robinson, 27, and the driver of the other car, a Fort Bragg soldier, died at the scene. The soldier’s young wife and seven-week-old son were clinging to life.
Newspaper stories from the time said there was no indication alcohol or excessive speed were a factor. Dean Jacobs and Robinson-Wilson say he was likely disoriented — maybe taking the wrong ramp.
The state Highway Patrol found Robinson’s parents in High Point. They and Robinson-Wilson rushed to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
The Polaroid picture the coroner brought out to identify her husband’s body only convinced her he was still alive. His eyes were open and she could see only a few scratches marring his chest.
She was so convinced, she insisted the coroner allow her check his pulse and breathing. “I was a nurse but I wasn’t rational,” said Robinson-Wilson, then 26. As she speaks, tears fall down the face of David III, who is sitting close by and only knows his dad through stories and the pictures his mother kept around the house.
The soldier’s wife and infant son, died within weeks. Robinson-Wilson sunk into a depression. “I knew Winston-Salem better and what if I had been driving,” she said. “The guilt was overwhelming.”
She moved back to Winston-Salem from Tennessee, and for the next year David III’s grandmothers raised him. She couldn’t even look at her son.
“I wasn’t there for his first words,” she said. “I wasn’t there to see him walk.”
Robinson-Wilson and others had gone to the tow truck lot to retrieve belongings in the days after accident. They found his “man bag” with his license and money under the seat, right where he always put it.
So when a few weeks later, a gold diamond-encrusted World Football League championship ring was found as the car was being removed, Dean Jacobs put it away in case the family ever called back.
Back then, the Jacobs also had a young family — with an infant son born that March. They operated three businesses at once and moved the tow truck operation several times in the years that came. With each move, they made sure the ring was safe.
Lu Jacobs periodically looked for Junior Robinson’s widow. Recently, she came across two David Lee Robinson III’s on the Internet and thought maybe one of them could be Junior’s son.
One had been shot over a pair of shoes. The other was part of an NCAA college football recruitment site, with a video, statistics and a cell phone number attached.
“The last sentence he wrote was, ‘I was a month-old when my father died,’” Lu Jacobs recalled. “… I went running out my back door to Dean. I said, ‘He has a son. The football player! He had a boy.’”
This year’s Thanksgiving break was almost over for David III when Dean and Lu Jacobs showed up on the family’s doorstep.
Bruce Wilson had asked his wife if she really wanted to meet these strangers at home instead of a neutral location down the street.
Lu Jacobs obviously had good intentions, Wilson-Robinson told him. Plus, the women had begun to bond over the phone.
Lu Jacobs had also known tragedy, including the loss of a five-month-old child and the murder of a brother. She had nursed husband Dean back to health after a car accident that broke his neck.
Robinson-Wilson explained how she had slowly found her way after Junior Robinson’s death. David III was 5 when she met Bruce Wilson, a coworker at Alamance Regional Hospital, who would treat him as his own son.
David III had been an A-plus student and standout football player at Andrews who was accepted into ECU’s engineering program.
The Jacobs had a daughter who graduated from ECU.
Robinson-Wilson didn’t tell her son about the ring — only that people were coming with something special for him.
That Nov. 30 night Lu Jacobs handed David III the 1992 diamond, emerald and gold World League Bowl Ring engraved with “Robinson” and the number 22.
David III was quiet, stunned.
“I felt so close to him,” he said. “It’s like a sign that he’s watching out for me.”
As Dean and Lu Jacobs got back onto the interstate that night, she, too, was contemplative. “In this work we’ve rolled up on the children of friends, where bodies have been thrown out, some of the worst stuff imaginable,” Lu Jacobs said. “When you find something out of a tragedy like this, it makes you feel good. “It’s the best Christmas gift.”