The South Jersey gym owner who made himself into a cause célèbre by defying Gov. Phil Murphy's public health orders during the pandemic was a scheduled speaker Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

Ian Smith was part of a panel about the confiscation of private property, where told the crowd that the state's actions against him for reopening his Atilis gym in Bellmawr during a public health emergency violated his constitutional rights.

CPAC attracts the biggest names in the conservative movement and can often make or break a career for politicians hoping to gain national prominence. Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to address the gathering on Sunday afternoon in his first public speech since leaving office in January.

But for the loved ones of the 19-year-old Galloway man who Smith killed in a drunk-driving crash in 2007, it was nothing more than another unwelcome reminder of who Smith really is.

"I think a lot of us had forgiven what he's done ... enough to get our own peace from it. What hurts from it now and makes it fresh is that he clearly did not learn a thing," Jimmy Connolly, the cousin of Smith's victim, said Friday.

"To see him go from a little tiny pipsqueak who was crying for his mom at the sentencing to where he's now a big tough guy," Connolly said. "For lack of a better term, he's still just a piece of s**t. Pardon my French."

According to the Press of Atlantic City's coverage of the case, Smith, then 20 years old, ran a stop sign on April 28, 2007. The crash turned Ade's car onto its side and Smith's car then shoved it into a tree. Ade, an Atlantic Cape Community College radio student, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Smith was charged with causing the death and with possession of marijuana and hypodermic needles. He pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular homicide and was sentenced in 2008 to five years and six months in prison with three years of supervised release.

Connolly told New Jersey 101.5 that the family had been ready to move on. But then Smith started appearing on the news, with "his face shoved down our throats" by people in the media like Tucker Carlson, who's had Smith as a frequent guest to criticize measures that governors like Murphy have taken since last year to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Connolly finds it frustrating that people continue to hold Smith in high esteem even after learning about the homicide case. Smith's GoFundMe account has raised $400,000 from supporters who side with him as state and local authorities have repeatedly closed his business and continue to issue fines that were well over $134,000 last month.

"They just hear that he's a hero. He's a martyr for our rights and our freedoms and it's so far from the truth," Connolly said. "It just sucks to see him consistently fool everyone just liked he fooled the judge in the beginning to get the least possible sentence he possibly could."

Smith last year addressed the conviction in a post on his Instagram, saying there is "justifiably a great deal of hated and resentment towards me. This is something I've lived with my whole life. I've never run from it nor would I."

"When I awoke that morning I had no idea there was alcohol in my system," Smith said. "Being a 20-year-old kid no one explained to me those dangers. It was always 'don't drink and drive' and we didn't drink and drive and I made a point not to. That doesn't matter because the end result was the same."

Connolly said the family keeps Kevin Ade's memory alive by participating in the annual John R. Elliott HERO Campaign Walk and Run on the boardwalk in Ocean City.

"We wear the same shirts we had made up to wear in the courtroom for the trial. We walk in his honor to keep his name alive and to raise money for the HERO Foundation to spread the word about drunk driving and talk to kids and try to stop it before it happens," Connolly said.

The Kevin Aaron Ade Memorial Scholarship, which is administered by the Community Foundation of New Jersey, is also given out every year to an Absegami High School student who shares his interest in the arts, music or making movies.

Donations can be made to Kevin's Scholarship Foundation of NJ, PO Box 338, Morristown, NJ 07963-0338.

"Our family is so very grateful for the people who have reached out to us and extended their kindness. We love to be able to share Kevin's story and keep his spirit and way of life around," Connolly said.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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