A Christmas Eve Tragedy on Hwy 78

Olive Branch,MS

By Amanda Compton-Ortiz

When William Allen, a.k.a. “Hippie,” walked into a room, you could almost bet there wasn’t one face that he couldn’t bring a smile to.
“I don’t know too many men like him,” said Horn Lake resident Teresa Dees, Allen’s longtime friend and partner. “He was the kindest person I’ve met in my life, and he just had this special way of touching other people’s lives.
“This world just lost one of the best souls that ever had the opportunity to walk this planet.”
Allen died in a fatal incident during the early morning hours on Christmas Eve. He was 51.

According to a report released by Seargent Joseph Miller with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol Troop E in Batesville, Allen was struck on US Hwy 78 near Ingrams Mill Road in DeSoto County. He was in the right lane of eastbound traffic and was struck by a 2007 Nissan Maxima driven by Jeremy Jones of Holly Springs. The accident happened around 4:50 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Allen, who completed culinary art school in California, had worked in restuarants all over Memphis since the 1970’s. He was most recently working as head chef for The Crossing Bar & Grill on Hacks Cross Road in Olive Branch. “He loved to cook,” Dees said. “That was his passion. He could throw something as simple as a steak and potato together and make it taste like you were eating at a 5-star restaurant.”

Allen was also known for his talents outside the kitchen as well. “He had a great way of breaking up a fight,” Dees said. “It was like he could fix any situation with his kindness.”

Taylor Gavin, who worked with Allen at The Crossing for the last year and a half, said losing Allen has not been easy for any of his coworkers.”It has been a hard hit for us,” she said. “Aside from being one of the funniest people any one of us has ever met, he was a part of our family.”

Dees said Allen, whom she’s known for 25 years, was also a motorcycle enthusiast. The couple had been planning to be more active with the local biker’s club and start riding again, together.
She also recalled when Allen wasn’t working, he enjoyed spending time with Dees’ 11-year-old daughter and taking care of his miniature Chihuahua he named Xena after TV’s popular warrior princess.

Dees said she was wrapping the Christmas presents she had bought for Allen when she received the last call she’d ever get from him. It was shortly before 5 a.m., she recalled, on Christmas Eve and pouring down rain. Allen was driving to his home in Red Banks after a late night at work.
During the call, Dees said Allen told her he had hydroplaned off the road in his Ford Explorer and had landed in a ditch along Hwy 78, about one mile from Ingrams Mill Exit 10. He said he was not hurt but was on foot and had called his roommate who agreed to give him a ride.

Allen’s roommate, along with Dees, would never make it to him.
“He had crossed the road and was hit by oncoming traffic,” Dees said. “It happened not long after we talked and before the sun came up so more than likely, he was just trying to get himself in a better position on the road where he would be more visible to us in the dark; to make it easier for us to pick him up.
“That’s just the kind of person he was; always trying to help someone else. He would give you the shirt off his back and never ever ask for anything in return.”

Allen’s ex-wife Shannon Allen agreed.
“He was amazing,” said Shannon, who had remained close friends with Allen after over 20 years of marriage. “He could walk into a room and light up everyone’s faces.
“He just had such a positive affect on people, even after only meeting them once. I think they just knew he was a good person and loved being around him.”
Shannon said she and Allen had a good marriage but decided to divorce three years ago due to a strained relationship between Allen and his 21-year-old step son, who was born to Shannon in a previous marriage. About one week before the incident, Shannon said her son had expressed a desire to reunite with Allen which eventually led to a family night out together with him at The Crossing.
“We had such a good night with him,” Shannon said. “They buried that hatchet. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know it now. That was God at work.”

Shannon said while visiting the scene of the accident just a few days ago, she was reminded of Allen’s impact on people’s lives and on her own life as she stood before a roadside cross erected in his memory and adorned with his nickname “Hippie.”

“I remember just being able to feel his presence there,” she said. “And then I looked down and picked up a piece of his trenchcoat that was still on the ground where his body was found. That’s when I just lost it and broke down into tears.
“I just knew right then that he is going to be in Heaven, and he’ll be there when I get there.”
Dees said although she has known Allen for most of her adult life, the couple just started officially dating about 7 months ago after reconnecting on Facebook.

“We lost touch for several years but he’s always been in my heart,” she said. “We would joke around with eachother and say ‘Well, it only took us 25 years to get here.’
“I finally found my soul mate, and he will never be forgotten. I just can’t believe he’s gone. God took another angel home.”

The incident, according to Sergeant Miller, has been confirmed an accident and there are no charges pending.

Allen’s family is accepting monetary donations at The Crossing to help pay for his cremation. Donations can be made in person or by calling the restaurant’s owner Betty Rowland at 662-893-6242.Any donations left over after cremation expenses will go the Make A Wish Foundation as Allen had requested.
A memorial service for Allen will also take place at The Crossing on Jan. 7 at 4 p.m. The event will be a potluck celebration so participants are invited to bring a dish.

Amanda Compton-Ortiz holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Journalism from the Univeristy of Mississippi. She is currently working as a freelance journalist with over 15 years of experience in the field. She welcomes comments and news tips from readers at amanda.desotocountynewsroom@yahoo.com.