Murdered father never far from Jones' thoughts

Clarence Jones, father of Tennessee assistant Tony Jones.

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Clarence Jones, father of Tennessee assistant Tony Jones.

Tennessee assistant basketball coach Tony Jones, right, discusses strategy with head coach Bruce Pearl during
the 2006 Arkansas game in Knoxville.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess // Buy this photo

Tennessee assistant basketball coach Tony Jones, right, discusses strategy with head coach Bruce Pearl during the 2006 Arkansas game in Knoxville.

Every day is Father's Day as far as Tony Jones is concerned.

It has been that way since Aug. 18 for the Tennessee associate head men's basketball coach, That's the day when Jones' father, Clarence "Sonny J" Jones, was found beaten to death inside a friend's home the day after he was reported missing from his home in southwest Detroit. He was 86.

Another pointless, random act of violence in the big city.

But not the kind of thing that's supposed to happen to a celebrated community figure like Sonny J, whose only mistake was not looking back in time to see the perpetrator launch his attack in the daylight hours.

Tony Jones still feels anger and resentment. Understandably. But he's not overwhelmed by it, nor has he allowed it to have a negative affect on his outlook on life.

On the contrary.

"You have to compartmentalize that part of it,'' said the 49-year-old Jones, who serves as coach Bruce Pearl's right-hand man, handling in-game substitutions and scheduling, among other things. "Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about my dad and the way he died.

"But I look at it that my life has taken on an extra value, because now I'm more of an extension of my father's legacy,'' Jones said. "I want all the values and morals he lived by and taught me to factor into me becoming the best person I can.''

Throughout his coaching career - which began at Southwestern High - Jones has heard himself give pep talks about fighting through, overcoming and bouncing back from adversity.

Those messages have now become a part of Jones' lifestyle as he adapts and moves forward from the loss of his father.

"Tony is like my brother; so I watched my brother and my best friend lose his father,'' said Pearl, who met the Jones' family when he was an assistant coach at Iowa coaching Tony's younger brother, Bill, in 1986.

"This has tested Tony's faith, because Tony's father was also his best friend,'' Pearl said. "Tony knows who is there for him, and he has appreciated that, and he has thrown himself into his job in a big way.''

Big enough to serve as the point-man for the Vols' top 10-rated signing class. Jones was the primary recruiter of the three players the Vols signed, which included the top-rated power forward in the nation, Tobias Harris, the Georgia high school player of the year, Trae Golden, and a 6-foot-5 high flier with 360-dunking abilities and a 3-point touch in Jordan McRae.

"Without Sonny J as my father, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the things I have in life,'' Jones said. "They are things that I will continue to achieve.''

Aug. 17

Tony Jones had just left Detroit after spending a week with his brothers and sisters helping to spruce up Sonny J's home.

Normally, August is when Jones takes vacation with his family, as it offers a quiet time before UT takes off with individual drills at the start of fall term.

"This time it was different, and that was so gratifying, just to spend that whole week with him,'' Jones said. "I had no idea the next day he would go missing.''

Neither did Pam Callaway, one of Jones' two older sisters.

"I had called over to him right before 11 o'clock, because at 11 o'clock dad liked to watch the Price is Right, every day,'' Callaway said. "I usually call him from work, but I was off that day (Aug. 17) for my birthday, and we were having everybody on over to the house.

"Later that day, everyone started coming, my brothers, daughters, sisters ... but no one had heard from dad.''

Callaway called a nephew, who often stayed with Sonny J, and discovered no one had heard from her father.

It turned out Sonny J had gone over to the house of Pete Cureton, who is known to friends and family as "Mr. Pete." Cureton was an elderly gentleman who was hospitalized, so Sonny J was checking on his mail, waiting for Meals on Wheels food to arrive so he could put it in the freezer, and paying whatever bills were due.

The search began with the Jones family driving by Mr. Pete's property. The van Sonny J was driving was not in the driveway, so the search continued through other parts of the neighborhood.

"No one thought to go look in the house,'' Callaway said. "So we all went back over to my dad's house and continued calling around.''

Bill Jones, who played with the New Jersey Nets from 1988-91, remembers the chaotic turns of the afternoon.

"We started the day celebrating my sister's birthday,'' Bill Jones said. "But as the party went on, we realized none of us had heard from dad. That was very abnormal.

"That's when we went to my dad's house to look around and go over all that he had done. ... the garbage was still out, his bed was made up,'' he said. "We started combing the neighborhood.''

The Jones family went to the Detroit Police Department at 11 p.m., and the police responded by sending a squad car out to the house. The family continued the search until 4 a.m. of Aug. 18.

Tony Jones, having heard his father was missing, had already booked a flight from Knoxville to Detroit, and arrived in his hometown around 9 a.m. Tuesday.

"The worst flight ever,'' Jones recalls.

In the meantime, a trace on Sonny J's cell phone revealed it was charged and being used.

The cell phone records led to the Aug. 23 arrest of the accused killer, 19-year-old Eugene Peguies, who has remained in jail without bond. The records indicated calls were made from Sonny J's phone to Peguies' girlfriend, who lived with her grandmother in Detroit.

Later Tuesday, the Jones family was tipped off from a relative who worked in a mortuary that the body of an 86-year-old male had been discovered at Mr. Pete's house.

The family raced to the murder site, arriving two minutes after the police.

"When they brought him out, the police had to hold us back,'' Callaway said. "Seeing our dad come out in a black bag. ... there was anger, shock, sadness. It was horrible.

"He went missing on my birthday, and he was found on the 18th, my older brother Darryl's birthday.''

Honoring Sonny J

Sonny J attended and supported Detroit's Southwestern High athletics even after Tony and Bill completed their successful athletic careers.

"I knew Sonny J since I was 11 or 12 years old, meeting him through Tony,'' said former Southwestern star and NBA player Howard Eisley. "Tony was like a father figure to me when he coached me, and after meeting Sonny J, I saw Tony was an extension of his father.

"Sonny J always had his door open to kids in our community, and he was willing to help out in any way that he could.''

Eisley, who went on to a 13-year NBA career after attending Boston College, concedes Detroit's reputation as a dangerous city is somewhat warranted.

But not so much in the area of the city where he and the Jones' family hail from.

"I was in disbelief when I heard about it, especially with that being such a close-knit neighborhood that was known for its block parties,'' Eisley said. "Mr. Jones was in pretty good shape; he wasn't brittle or having any problems. He had a great bill of health, so for someone to do that to him at his age was really bothersome.''

Word of Sonny J's murder spread quickly throughout the neighborhood and into other parts of the city; media coverage was immediate.

"So every day, we had a gathering, inviting everyone over so we could all pull together for my dad,'' Callaway said. "My mother (Christine) had passed away in 1994, but my dad was always there for each and every one of us. We wanted to make sure we could be there for him and all of his friends.''

Sonny J was buried on Aug. 28 - what would have been his 87th birthday.

Tony Jones has started a scholarship fund at Southwestern in his father's honor. Each year, two students exhibiting outstanding community service characteristics will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship grant.

"I just feel my dad had to die for a reason, because there's no way in this world that should happen to such a quality human being,'' Tony Jones said. "His name and legacy has to live on.''

In the meantime, the court case drags on. On Friday, Peguies was re-evaluated in court, according to Bill Jones.

On July 12, Peguies will be offered a plea deal that would involve him spending 35 to 60 years in prison.

"If he doesn't agree to accept the deal, the trial starts on July 19,'' Bill Jones said.

Closure, Tony Jones said, is the family's next goal.

But today, on Father's Day, Tony Jones hopes to accomplish something else for those who have followed the story.

"The message I want to convey is that life is short, and if you are fortunate enough to have a parental figure, tell them each and every day you love them,'' Jones said. "Tell them you appreciate all of the things they have done for you.

"I was fortunate enough to have my father 48 years of my life, and I'll continue to think about him every day.''

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Comments » 13

ravensearay writes:

God Bless you Tony. Continue to fight the good fight. You are a big reason this program is as successful as it is.

Jediphysics writes:

I used to live on 7 mile and Gratiot when I was 8 years old. Detroit is a bittersweet memory for me. I'm so sorry to hear about your father's death but so honored to hear about his life. Wish I could have met him; he seems like a fantastic father and amazing person. We Vols fans have your back, Tony. Definitely have you in our thoughts and prayers. Thanks for all you've done for the University!

BigBadVol writes:

I don't know what to say. How very tragic for this family. I am so sorry. I share your pain.

37803Vol writes:

Coach Jones is a class act and I have no doubt his tragic experience has made him a better coach. This past season had to have been emotionally difficult for him and every time I saw him I couldn't help but to wonder the agony he must've felt. I wish nothing but the best this Father's Day.

eduardo writes:

Such a cool dude!! Love ya Santonio Jones!!

colt45 writes:

May God bless you Mr.Jones. Your dads legacy lives on through you. Thanks for all you do and have done for the BIG ORANGE.

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

I forgot about this. Sorry Jones.
Bless my father for being there in our little league games and the memories of watching games together, going to MLB, Knoxville, and for taking me to see Michael Jordan when I was a kid.

Thanks dad! Happy FD to all fathers!

VOLFTBL writes:

Coach Jones.. Your Dad was a true role model and touched so many lives, as you do today. It is obvious that his spirit is carried forward through your actions and deeds and in the way you positively impact so many young men's lives. That is the greatest tribute you can ever give a parent. Happy Father's Day to you, your Dad, and all of the Vol Nation Dads out there!

Bigger_Al writes:

Father's Day without Dad would be painful and empty, except for the memories.

Wishing Tony some peace today.

10volunteers98 writes:

Makes you wonder why things like this happen to good people.Wonder if beating an 86 year-old man to death made the punk feel big.God be with Tony and the family.

Ringside writes:

Very Sad! To live that long and have to die that way. Anyone that kills another person needs to rot, but when it is an elderly person, they just need to just have their lives ended on the spot. May God Bless the Jones Family.

Ringside writes:

I lost my Dad August 3, 1985. I still miss him. Nothing takes the place of Dad. RIP Mr. Jones.

meme1995 writes:

The tragedy of Mr. Clarence Jones' death has sadden me more than you can imagine. I have searched for a way to speak to this family. There is NO EXCUSE for your father's murder, but I do want to offer my words of condolance. I am truely sorry for the pain and hurt this tagedy has caused you. I too have suffered the loss of a loved one to a violent crime so i know exactly how you feel. however, this time i was not related to the victim but to the criminal. I am aware that these words may not mean anything to you or the rest of your family but they are straight from my heart with love. i never understood how the murder's family could come to court and stand by their side until it happened to my family. & please believe we never, not once supported his actions. 10 yrs later i have forgiven the man who killed my 5month yr old son. I pray that one day you can forgive Eugene. not to make him feel btter but it will heal the hurt from your heart. God is the final judge and jury in all of life's trials. & Eugene has to answer to God.

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