Johnson’s brother, Nick, has been deployed to Afghanistan on multiple occasions, and he’s risked his life to defend the United States.
“For someone who’s doing repeated duties in Afghanistan, you reserve that space in your mind to prepare yourself- because you don’t want it to happen, you don’t know if it’s going to happen, but you kind of have to prepare for it,” said Squires.
So when a call came from Erin on Sunday, her voice shaking and tears flowing,
he assumed it was related to her brother’s military duties.
“As soon as she said, ‘hello,’ I knew something was wrong,” said Squires.
He just wasn’t expecting the news he received.
Erin Johnson was calling to inform him that their mutual friend from high school, Jason Raikes, had been killed in a devastating, multicar crash and pileup on Florida’s Interstate 75, early Sunday morning.
“Something like this, you can’t prepare for,” explained Squires, as he wiped away tears with a tissue. “This is the definition of a freak accident, and a massive one at that.”
Jason Raikes was 26-years-old, a Lloyd C. Bird High School graduate and a new resident of Florida. Squires and Johnson say he moved down there about six months ago after landing a job in internet technology and meeting the girl of his dreams, Christie Diana Nguyen.
Both died in the car crash.
“You want to blame somebody, but it’s an accident,” said Johnson, who had difficulty holding back her tears throughout the interview.
“But there really is nobody to blame, and that’s probably why it’s so hard,” she added.
Johnson and Squires describe their group of high school friends as an extended ‘family,’ in some instances a closer network than the relationships they had with their blood relatives.
“We talk about high school the way most people talk about college,” said Squires. “It was fantastic, that’s where all our best friends came from and if anything happens to anyone from that school, everybody comes out.”
Now, both individuals have been amazed by the response the Chester community has offered following the death of one of its own.
Squires set-up an online donation web site, http://www.wepay.com/donations/contributions-to-the-family-of-jason-raikes,
to raise money for the funeral costs.
Within 24 hours of the site going up, Squires had already received more than $4,000, about 80 percent of the way to his goal of $5,000.
“Losing your son is a terrible tragedy,” said Squires, “but I feel like funeral costs are so high…it’s just adding insult to injury.”
He added, “you’ve got so much to deal with, you shouldn’t have to be burdened with that.”
As Squires and Johnson attempt to raise the donations necessary to pay for the funeral for both Raikes and his girlfriend, they’re still trying to absorb the loss of a great person.
“He was smart, funny, witty, caring,” said Johnson, who described her friend as an introvert in high school who gained a new sense of confidence and adventure upon moving to Florida.
“His Facebook page was slowly getting littered with pictures of him and [Christie] out on the town, and he had a tan,” laughed Squires.
Johnson piped in, “back in high school you couldn’t get him to come out to the bar for a drink!”
Raikes’s former high school band director, Earl E. Shaffer Jr., had nothing but compliments to offer about Raikes as well.
“Jason was a real a good fellow, and he was a teammate,” said Shaffer, who used to serve as director of the Skyhawk Band at L.C. Bird High School. “He was real well known, even in a band of 220 he was well known and very well regarded.”
Raikes played on the drum line.
Johnson and Squires say they’re still trying to gather strength following the loss of their friend, but they’ve learned a valuable lesson.
“Everybody assumes there’s always tomorrow,” said Squires. “If we can’t get together this weekend, we’ll get together next weekend. And you keep putting it off, and you keep putting it off.”
“And sometimes,” he added, “there’s just not a tomorrow.”