Killed on his way to a con­cert

Jupitta’s re­union with her baby brother turned to heart­break

that's life (Australia) - - Contents - Jupitta Smith, 23, Auck­land, NZ As told to Beth Young

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

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