June Finai’s world changed forever in March this year, when she received the most dreaded phone call a parent can get – that one of her sons had been in a car accident.
The mother of seven rushed to the Leulumoega District Hospital, thinking it wasn’t serious, only to find her eldest son had died from serious head injuries.
Juith Tofilau Lafo Fina’i was just 19 years old. He was a young man of a quiet demeanour, the former Pesega and Nuuausala College student was preparing to depart for his mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Juith was a passenger in a speeding car driven by his 20-year-old cousin, Aniseko Taofinuu, who was last week sentenced to Tanumalala for the tragic accident.
Juith died instantly when the driver lost control of the vehicle and the car drifted off the road and crashed into a tree by the side of the road.
Grieving and still trying to come to terms with the loss of her son, June Fina’i wants to share her story with the hope that the death of her son could be taken as a lesson to youth driving recklessly, endangering the lives of everyone on our roads, including their own loved ones.
“We were preparing for my father-in-law’s funeral, March 4th 2022.. when my world changed in seconds,” says June, unable to hold back tears.
“When I got the news my son was in an accident I didn’t think it was serious..
“When I got to the hospital my heart shattered into pieces seeing my son laying on the hospital bed, not responsive..
“My head was spinning, and my mind was all over the place,” June shares with SGN.
“I didn’t know what to say to my mother, Naomi, because she had helped to raise her grandson from birth.. I didn’t know what to say to my husband, who was stuck in Hawaii with the lockdowns.. and I didn’t know how to face my other children, Juith’s four brothers and two sisters, who looked up to him and adored him as their eldest brother..”
The driver of the vehicle was Juith’s biological brother, but June and her husband Eddie had adopted Juith from birth. June could recall the exact dates in the process they had gone through to take Juith as their own.
“Juith was born October 10th 2002, and he was given to us before Christmas of 2002 but he was leagally adopted in May 2003.”
When the boys’ grandfather passed away in Fasitoo-Uta in March, Juith left his home in Nofoalii, and went to his father’s family to help his cousins with funeral preparations.
The boys were sent with a friend, 21 year old Apelu Maiava, to fetch bananas and firewood from the family’s inland plantation. Aniseko, Juith’s older cousin (also his biological brother) drove the family car. They returned home, but then left again shortly after. Juith sat in the front while Apelu sat in the back seat. Doctors ruled Juith’s death to have been caused by traumatic head injuries. Apelu is still recovering from his injuries and says he is no longer able to help his father at the plantation.
A graduate of Pesega and Nuuausala College, June said Juith had stepped up to be her right hand during the two years of covid lockdowns, when his father was stuck in Hawaii. “Juith took over his dad’s role of going to the farm, cooking and helping his younger siblings with chores.. he was the eldest, but the quietest of all our children.. he was unique in his own ways and that’s why we miss our son so dear to us..”
Last week, June Fina’i sat through the court sentencing of the driver – Aniseko Taofinuu – her husband’s nephew and her son’s biological brother. June Fina’i says no amount of jail term nor the material things supplied for Juith’s funeral, would bring her son back. The grieving mother called on youth and drivers in general to take more responsibility for the safety of others on Samoa’s roads.
“My family will never be the same knowing that our son was taken away from us too soon from a reckless driver without a driver’s license…
“I only hope that what has happened to our son Juith will teach these young kids not to drive without a license and be more responsible to think about the safety of others..
“Please drive with caution,” June pleads.
During the sentencing of Aniseko in the Supreme Court this week, Justice Tafaoimalo Tologata Leilani Tuala-Warren acknowledged June’s pain and said this was a tragic and extremely sad situation for the family of the deceased.
“They lost a son, grandson and brother and their pain is evident in their victim impact statements. I acknowledge the presence of his family in Court, in particular, his mother. I acknowledge their pain in losing their son,” states Justice Tuala-Warren.
The sentencing report details the loss expressed by Juith’s family, in deep mourning of his sudden death.
“His mother says that she can not sleep at night since her son died. Her husband is not here to support them as he is stuck in Hawaii. Their younger children and her mother also suffer from the loss of her son. She is hurting and she says that the ifoga and the accused’s family’s contribution to the funeral will not bring her son back..
“The deceased’s grandmother who says she was his primary caregiver when he was young, speaks of how hard it is that he is no longer with her. He used to wake up early to prepare her tea and give her tablets. She sleeps on his grave and kisses his photo before she sleeps each night. She says she no longer has any happiness. His father who is stuck in Hawaii also wrote of his sadness and deep sorrow about the sudden and unexpected loss of his son”.
Last week a father who caused the death of his wife after a dangerous takeover attempt in Leausoalii last year, was also sentenced to jail.
In both cases the Court acknowledged that the family members driving at the time of these tragic accidents will continue to suffer and have to live the rest of their lives with the knowledge that they had caused the death of their loved ones.