Avant went on to star at the University of Michigan and has become a fan favorite in Philadelphia for being tough, taking hits, holding onto the ball and never complaining. Avant, his aunt said, never quit on his father despite Jerry's years of incarceration and long spans with little or no contact.
"When Jay went east, he brought his father with him," said Avant-Kellom, Jerry's sister. "I was so proud."
Jerry Avant, 51, of Mount Holly, who briefly had lived with his son in Camden County, died Thursday afternoon when he lost control of a 1996 Chevrolet Blazer on a rain-soaked rural road in Pemberton Township, Burlington County, and the car struck trees. Police said that the accident happened at about 3:53 p.m. on Four Mile Road, a two-lane roadway that twists through pine forests.
Avant was pronounced dead at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, in Pemberton. The accident remains under investigation. There were no visible signs of an accident or any roadside memorials on Four Mile Road yesterday afternoon.
Since high school, various newspapers have chronicled Jason Avant's hardscrabble life in Chicago, how he was raised by his Aunt Shirley and Grandmother Lillie, and turned to selling drugs to make a living before becoming a gridiron star. In many articles, Avant was quoted as coming to his father's defense.
"My father is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet," he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2001. "Sometimes bad things just happen to good people."
The father often was quoted, too, sometimes expressing regret for not always being there for his son. "He was always in my heart," Jerry Avant told the Chicago Tribune in 2006.
Avant-Kellom said that her brother's services would be held in Illinois. Jason Avant could not be reached for comment.
A passenger in Jerry Avant's vehicle, Urie Ridgeway, also was injured in the crash and was taken to Cooper University Hospital. A nursing supervisor said that he was no longer there yesterday afternoon.