JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. — The parents of a Jefferson County High School student are mourning and remembering her immense positivity and love for life after she died in a head-on crash over the weekend.
Makinna's father, Todd Smith, and mother, Branda Melinn, said their only daughter Makinna was a ray of sunshine because she always had a smile on her face, and she had a distinct bright yellow car to go with her sunny personality.
The wreck happened Sunday morning when the 16-year-old was driving to work for her shift at the Dandridge Sonic.
That morning, Todd said he told his daughter goodbye and she blew kisses to him when she left for work. Only a few minutes after, he and Branda got a call that a yellow car had crashed on the highway.
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Makinna was driving on the westbound side of Highway 25-70 in Baneberry when her car crossed into the eastbound lane, crashing head-on into a vehicle driven by a 74-year-old woman.
Her parents said they learned she died instantly in the crash. THP said the other woman was hospitalized after her car went off the right side of the road and rolled over onto its top.
The family said they aren't sure why the crash happened, saying it could only be an accident.
"It has been every parent's worst nightmare, but we know she was wearing her seat belt and we know she wasn't texting," Branda said.
Through loss and grief, they want to share their daughter's story and let people know what a wonderful person Makinna was.
"She was just a lover. When something tragic like this happens it's easy to be mad, but we can't be mad because she just had such an amazing life," Branda said. "She just lived every day, and did so much in her short 16 years that you just can't be mad at that."
The Jefferson County High School junior always wanted to be a veterinarian and dreamed of studying at the University of Tennessee. If not that, her family said she wanted to be a race car driver.
Her parents said she was a stranger to no one and had many loves in life: She was a drag racer and was a two-time track champion. She served as a cadet at the Northview-Kodak Fire Department. At school, she was in JROTC and in the school chorus. Her parents said she was always singing.
"She had the biggest heart that anyone can ever ask for," Todd said. "This girl amazes us, and she's still doing it to this day."
Her parents said they are finding peace through faith and said they are also comforted in the signs they've seen that their daughter is still watching over them, be they rainbows each day, hearts in the clouds, or redbirds.
"Our signs were redbirds. She was extremely close to my grandmother who passed away. Every time a redbird would pass she'd say 'That's memaw,'" Branda said. "Yesterday morning as I was leaving there were two red birds that flew in front of my car. She will be my redbird forever."
The family said they knew the other woman who was hospitalized in the crash through family friends, saying the family has been understanding and believe Makinna is watching over her in the hospital, too.
"She opened her eyes yesterday. When I was there doing Makinna's makeup, I had gotten the call," Branda said.
Her mother said she always did her daughter's hair and makeup in life, and found peace doing her makeup for her funeral.
"She was my baby, I just needed to go make her beautiful one last time," Branda said. "We always had mommy and Makinna days, and that was my last mommy and Makinna day. And I will forever be thankful for that."
Smith's funeral is Thursday, and visitation will happen from 2 to 7 p.m. at Farrar Funeral Home in Jefferson City.
Because Makinna loved to sing, her family said she will sing at her own funeral -- they will play a recording of her from when she sang 'Jesus take the Wheel' at her church a year ago.
Makinna will then be laid to rest on Friday escorted by police and fire vehicles.
Her parents said they have been overwhelmed by the support they've seen.
"People that don't even believe in God are praying for us. Just such an outpouring of love from people supporting us," Branda said. "You have a child that's so loved and so cherished. She will never be forgotten."
In May 2021, a little less than two years after her passing, Makinna was honored by the Jefferson County High School in what would have been her senior graduation. The school left her an empty seat filled with sunflowers.
Her family and friends made sure she and others who passed were able to be remembered alongside their classmates in the school's yearbook.