News

Loved ones reflect on road death three years ago

  • The late Aria Joell-Johnston
  • The late Aria Joell-Johnston’s brother Ajahree Smith and one of his best friends, Shawn Stevens
  • Friends of the popular Berkeley Institute student Joell-Johnston paid tribute to him after his death in a road accident in 2015
  • A poster from Aria Joell-Johnston's funeral
  • Friends of Aria Joell-Johnston
  • Arai Joell-Johnston with his mother and friends

The death of 16-year-old Arai Joell-Johnston after a bike crash sent shock waves through his close knit group of family and friends.

Arai’s older brother Ajahree and one of Arai’s closest friends Shawn Stevens, who were with him on the night he died, said their days of speeding and risk-taking on the road were over. Arai’s life was cut short when he tried to overtake a car and crashed into an oncoming vehicle.

Ajahree, now 21, told The Royal Gazette: “I questioned so many things. I was even thinking it could have been me [to die] rather than my little brother.

“I would have preferred it to be but it didn’t happen that way. I was shocked and in disbelief.”

Shawn, 20, said: “I feel Arai’s crash made a lot of people stop and think twice. It’s like Arai was a sacrifice — it happened to such a good person and someone so well rounded with everyone.

“It affected everybody because I know everyone my age used to speed, but when he died it was over — everyone was riding normal, cautious.”

Arai died in a smash near the Newstead Belmont Hills Hotel on Harbour Road on March 31, 2015. He had met up with Shawn, Ajahree and a group of friends at the Bermuda Athletics Association in Pembroke before they jumped on their bikes and headed at speed towards Harbour Road.

Ajahree said: “Before we got to Newstead, I saw him going past me. I was calling out to him but he was just going.

“I was just looking at him and looking at him, and I saw him trying to overtake the car. I was thinking like, ‘Oh, what the..?’ and then I saw another car coming … I saw him fall off. He was under the car and I grabbed his hand — he squeezed my hand.”

His friends battled to move the car but were unable to shift it.

Ajahree said: “Everyone was coming to the conclusion that he was gone.

“I just didn’t want to believe it at the time.

“I knew many people didn’t want to believe it — those who we told in the group chats — because it happened March 31 at 11.45pm, April Fool’s — they were saying ‘stop joking, stop joking’, but I said, ‘this is serious’.”

Shawn said he was in front of the group and realised something was wrong when he could no longer hear the bikes behind him.

He added: “It was weird, so I stopped in the middle of the road. I sort of felt it in the air. I said, ‘no, please’.

“I looked up to the sky and raised my hands. I took a deep breath and turned around and saw a messed up bike, a car, and I saw my boys.

“I heard someone say, ‘damn Arai’ and someone say, ‘get him from underneath the car’. Then I saw him.

“Ajahree got up and he was walking towards me crying he was saying, ‘He’s gone,’ and I just said, ‘don’t say that,’ but he said, ‘he’s gone, he’s gone’.

“We were crying all together. As a group we didn’t really go to sleep that night — a lot of people came to support us the next day. It was very hard for me. I would say we are all still really traumatised by it.”

The tragedy affected Shawn so much that he was unable to speak about it for three years.

He said on a trip to Florida in March he heard a song called Three Years that inspired him to write about his experience.

Shawn, now studying music production and engineering at Full Sail University in Orlando, added: “Arai’s date was coming up and it made sense — it was perfect,

“I don’t know how to talk to people about my emotions. If you know me as a person you know that it took a lot out of me to do it.”

The pair described Arai as a cheerful soul who was always quick to make a joke.

Ajahree said: “He was an incredible guy. As my little brother I kind of looked up to him because I was always shy but he was the guy in his age group.

“His smile and how he went about everything — he would make you laugh if you were having a bad day.

“He was a good brother. He really looked out for you if you needed anything. You could talk to him about anything, he would keep your darkest secret.”

Shawn added: “To me he was just funny and goofy. We made a tape together and we were in there making music every day. He was himself.”

Arai also enjoyed football, was a dancer with the Warwick Gombey Troupe and had talked about studying to be an accountant.

He loved motorbikes and even wrote a poem including a premonition that he would die on a bike.

Ajahree and Shawn said they hoped their story would help keep Arai’s memory alive and encourage young people to use care on the roads.

Ajahree said: “I would say really take your time and think about who it will affect if you get in an accident — it’s not just going to affect you.

“Our family still has problems — I still get vivid dreams because I was right there. I wake up crying sometimes but then I remember it’s a new day. I have to keep rolling with the punches.”

Shawn added: “I had the slowest bike. My bike was like a lemon. Guys were telling me, ‘Look, you gotta leave 30 minutes early because we’re going to come ringing across you.’ But then I used to abuse it, especially when I got my bike kit, but it is not worth it.”

He said: “If we’re going out to party, we have a designated driver. Speeding is really not worth it and you don’t have to overtake. There is the thrill — low key — but now that I am older, I sit back and look at it and think ‘What for?’.”