Every year, 2,100 North Americans are seriously injured or killed in rail crossing and trespassing incidents. These tragedies don’t just affect the victims—they tear families, friendships, and entire communities apart.
In many cases, the victims are young people who take risks—young people like Jafari Williamson. On March 21, 2009, the 18-year-old and his friends got off a commuter train in Port Credit, Ont., and then jumped onto the side of it as it pulled out of the station. Brad Johnston was there that fateful day. He and his best friend, Jafari, had train-hopped hundreds of times before—but this time, the stunt ended his friend’s life, and changed Brad’s forever.
Brad’s story is featured in one of four new videos produced for Operation Lifesaver’s #STOPTrackTragedies campaign. The videos are being unveiled during Rail Safety Week from September 19th to 25th. In the video, Brad talks about Jafari’s death and the lasting impact it’s had on him. Here is some of his conversation with Operation Lifesaver.
How would you describe your friendship with Jafari?
We met when I was probably about nine years old, and I got to be his best friend until I was 17. From the time I met him, we were inseparable. If I wasn’t at his house, he would be at mine. We didn’t go a day apart for those years that we knew each other. He was my best friend and he always will be.
How would you describe Jafari?
He was an athletic guy. He never walked anywhere—he always ran everywhere. His favorite thing was basketball. He was an amazing basketball player. The best part about him was that he always went around the basketball court, and if he ever saw somebody that was an underdog, and wasn’t able to play, he would take them under his wing. He would bring them over and teach them how to play. He was a really funny, goofy, playful kind of guy. He could make you go from them the maddest you’d ever been to the happiest in a second, just by his smile. He was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met.
What role did the GO train play in your life before the incident?
He and I would take the GO train about four or five times a day, between the Port Credit and Clarkson stations, because both of us lived on either side. I would start by going to his house in the morning, then we’d go to my house—and back and forth. So, we would be on it non-stop every day. When we got off the GO train, we’d wait for the doors to close, and then we’d jump onto the side of the train. It was normally Jafari in the front, and me in the back—and then we would jump off at the end of the platform and run. We did it because it was a shortcut, and when you're that age, it's all fun and games, right? We did it so many times, and it never bothered us. It was exhilarating.
What happened that tragic day in 2009?
Well, this day I ended up going on first and Jafari went second. But when we jumped off, he tripped over my foot and ended up hitting the ground and rolling under the GO train. In the time that he was under the train, between the two sets of wheels, he tried to grab out to me, and I got an inch away from his hand. But the train threw him out at the end of the platform, and when I saw him, it wasn't the same person that I remembered.
How did seeing your best friend die like that affect you?
It affected me to the point where I haven't been able to sleep properly since. For two-and-a-half years after it happened, my family had to watch me sleep because my doctor said that in my dreams, if I grabbed his hand and I got pulled under the train, I’d have a heart attack. It wasn't until probably about a year, or a year-and-a-half ago, that I was able to sleep half decent. But I still have the dream once or twice a week.
When you think back, why did you take such risks?
We never realized how dangerous it was jumping on the train. Back then, we always thought it was fun. We were adrenaline junkies. We did everything from jumping off two-story buildings, to anything exhilarating. That was one of the things that we loved to do. We had done it probably a hundred times. The only difference was that I was up front, and I was the slower one. So when I jumped off, he jumped off right behind me...But I was too slow, and he clipped the back of my foot. I wish I would have thought twice about what I was doing. If I would have, then I wouldn't be where I am today.
Where do you think Jafari would be today if it wasn’t for that tragic incident?
If he was still around, he would be probably somewhere in the NBA. He would be doing amazing for himself right now. And to be honest, if that accident hadn’t happened, my life would also have been a lot different. When I lost him, I went through a very dark stage. If he was here, he would have helped me through it. I miss being able to go to him for advice—just for him to be there. The smiles, the fun…I miss it all.