‘This is real’: Family wants teen’s tragedy to fuel fight against chronic crime

CHARLOTTE — For years, Charlotte leaders have been fighting chronic crime -- including prostitution, drugs and violence -- in the Sugar Creek and Interstate 85 corridor.

One family reached out to Channel 9′s Allison Latos hoping their daughter’s tragic story could spark change.

Maniyah Graham was only 16 years old when she was found in a Sugar Creek Road motel back in May unconscious, with cocaine and fentanyl in her system. Her family wants to save someone else’s child from the same fate.

Soon, there will be more eyes on the streets trying to stop the drugs and crime.

“I would never want a mother to feel what we’re feeling right now,” said Maniyah’s mother, Kim Graham.

Kim Graham told Latos through tears about the call she received from police. Her 16-year-old daughter Maniyah, who had run away and been in trouble before, wasn’t at the police station. Instead, she was at the hospital. Someone found her in a hotel off Sugar Creek Road in May.

“She had cocaine and fentanyl in her system,” said her stepmother Shanielle Mahatha. “Maniyah will never be the same.”

Her family said she suffered a traumatic brain injury and now at 17, she functions as if she were only 7 years old.

Nearly 9 months later, the questions of who gave Maniyah drugs and what happened to her in that room remain unanswered. What’s clear is that the Sugar Creek corridor remains a hot spot for crime.

“The number one issue is public safety. We can’t solve that by ourselves. We have to have partners,” said Charlotte’s assistant city manager Tracy Dodson. “I’ve really pushed our team, including CMPD, to think big. What is it going to take to solve this problem?”

Dodson said that’s why the city is investing millions in the Corridors of Opportunity like Sugar Creek and I-85. That investment includes $172,000 to launch a pilot program in February, installing security cameras at a dozen Sugar Creek corridor businesses that will tie into CMPD’s Real Time Crime Center. Plus, the city is paying for lighting improvements that should be complete by March.

“My main goal is awareness,” said Beverly Moore, Maniyah’s grandmother. “What is happening in Charlotte on West Sugar Creek?”

Maniyah’s case was one of four overdose calls police responded to at one motel within a four-month period last year. Her family warns if your loved one could be involved with drugs, don’t wait.

“This is real,” Kim Graham said.

“Go get them,” said Beverly Moore. “If they’re still alive, walking and breathing, it’s not too late. Go get them.”

Citizens are warning police about drug activity along the Sugar Creek and I-85 corridor too. Since August, police received almost 30 calls about drug activity within a quarter mile of that area.

The pilot program that adds security cameras to businesses will last three years. The city’s grant covers equipment, installation and the first year of monitoring.

(WATCH BELOW: New program aims to reduce violence in city hot spots)