Killed on his way to a concert
Jupitta’s reunion with her baby brother turned to heartbreak
When I grow up, I’m going to be a famous rugby player to make Mum rich,’ my little brother, Sione, 11, told me.
One of my eight siblings, Sione was my mum Finau’s favourite. But with a decade between us, it was impossible to feel jealous of my sweet baby brother.
It’d been years since I’d left our idyllic island home, Vava’u in Tonga, to live with my Nanna Mele and attend high school in Auckland.
I had my own family now – my husband, Sam, and our three-year-old son AJ – but my heart ached for my loved ones back home.
With a voice like an angel, Sione was in the school band and played the cornet.
Then, in 2016, Mum and my dad, Fineeva, called with the best news.
Sione’s band was going to tour New Zealand for a month over Christmas!
With money too tight to fly home, I hadn’t seen my baby brother since he was a toddler – and now he’d be passing through my town.
I can’t wait to squeeze him! I thought.
A few days before Christmas, I got my chance.
Pulling up outside the church where he was staying with the band, Sam and I spotted Sione instantly.
And even though he was with all his mates, he launched into my arms.
Of course, I wanted to spoil him with lots of Christmas pressies.
Passing me a piece of paper, he had written a list.
But not one item on it was for Sione – they were all for our three littlest siblings.
‘What do you want?’ I asked my thoughtful brother.
‘I don’t need anything,’ he insisted.
In between rehearsals, I was lucky enough to spend more time with Sione.
Seeing him bond with AJ was incredible.
Sadly, I had to work the day Sione left on the next leg of the tour.
The band was travelling by bus eight hours south to Gisborne, where they’d play on Christmas Day.
But that was fine – I’d see Sione before he flew back home in the new year.
‘Good luck!’ I told him. Two nights later, on Christmas Eve, Sam and I were watching TV when my big sister, Mele, got in touch.
Back in Tonga, she’d seen a news report.
‘There’s been a crash... it’s Sione’s bus,’ she said.
Maybe it’s nothing, I prayed, my heart thumping as I called his phone.
There was no answer. Think positive, I thought. Searching online for any information, I clicked on an article.
Sione’s bus, carrying 53 passengers, had ploughed through a barrier and rolled down a steep bank.
Tragically, a volunteer, Talita Moimoi Fifita, 33, had been killed instantly.
Terrifyingly, many more people were injured.
Then, I saw a picture of some members of the band, battered, bruised, but alive...
Scanning it, I was drawn to a tiny figure in a blue hoodie.
That’s him! I thought, relief flooding through me.
Sione had his back to the camera, but it was his jumper – I’d seen him wearing it just days earlier.
I kept calling but
Sione’s phone rang out each time. And
I couldn’t get through to any authorities.
Tossing and turning all night, I’d barely slept when my phone rang at 7am on Christmas Day. It was my cousin, Milika.
‘Sione didn’t make it,’ he said, gently.
As it turned out, he’d lent his jumper to a friend. It was just too much for me to take.
‘Why is Mummy crying?’ AJ asked his daddy, as I wept.
That Christmas time, instead of giving my little brother his gifts, I had to go and identify his body.
Tragically, a week after the crash a teacher from Sione’s school, Leotisia Malakai, 55, died in hospital from severe head and internal injuries. It was devastating.
Soon after, I took my baby brother home to Tonga to lay him to rest.
Then in October 2017, the bus driver, Talakai Aholelei, 65, pleaded guilty to three counts of careless driving causing death and 27 counts of careless driving causing injury.
This January, the
Waitakere District Court heard that several passengers smelt burning rubber before the crash.
Judge June Jelas said that Aholelei pulled over at a service station, checked the brakes and decided they were too hot, but would soon cool down.
Then, he made a ‘fatal decision’ to keep driving on an unfamiliar road.
‘You tried in desperation to slow down... but the bus slid out and you lost control,’ added the judge.
Aholelei was disqualified from driving for two years, ordered to pay $36,000 in reparation and sentenced to five-and-a-half months home detention.
I read out Mum’s victim impact statement to the court.
‘When I think about my son, I lose my mind,’ she’d written.
But, no-one in my family blamed the driver, whose remorse was clear.
It was just a terrible accident.
This Christmas, please take care on the roads – careless mistakes cost lives.
It’s two years since we lost our Sione – he even has another little niece, my newborn daughter Anaya.
I miss my little brother all the time, but when I have a bad day, his beaming grin will pop into my head.
Even from heaven, Sione’s still watching over us. And his sunny smile shines just as bright.
The bus, carrying 53 passengers, rolled down a steep bank
Our family gathered to say goodbyeSione was touring with the schoolband Sione (right) with his little brother and sister– they adored him Our mum Finau (with the red scarf ) and Sione (blue tie)
The bus fell 30-40 metres down a bank My sweet baby brother and me