Patrick Johnson was driving home after a long day of meetings one day in February 2018.
But the unfortunate events that would meet him on the road that afternoon would be a detour of bitter irony for the youth leader who founded the Longview-based J-STAR Ministries.
“I was going up this hill, and I saw a red pickup,” Johnson said. “I saw a lady standing outside, and I knew she was waiting on me to pass so she could cross the street to check her mailbox. I didn’t see her 9-year-old daughter on the passenger side.”
As Johnson passed the vehicle, that 9-year-old girl, Isabella Smith, crossed the road. Johnson’s vehicle struck her.
“I jumped out of the vehicle. Bella’s mother, Deanna Smith, reached out and grabbed my hand and said, ’I’m so sorry; it’s not your fault.’”
Johnson and Smith stayed on their knees, huddling over Bella’s body in a ditch on Texas 154 and praying, “Save Bella, save Bella.”
“It was a rural area; people started driving up, jumping out of their vehicles,” Johnson said. “A nurse came and started doing CPR. But I could tell by Bella’s face that she was gone.
“It’s like my whole world on Feb. 26 of last year turned upside down,” Johnson said. “I had dedicated my whole life to working with young people.”
After the authorities came, Johnson returned to his car and the drive home.
“That was the longest drive home and the worst drive of my life,” Johnson said. “(When I got home) I was just sitting there watching television and staring through it, to be honest. My wife and kids were checking on me... I don’t know what I would’ve done without them because each of my family comforted me in their own way.”
Hours later, officers called and gave Johnson the official word: Bella had died.
“My heart just sank, and I just again started crying,” Johnson said. “My family gathered around me and held me.”
A little while later, Johnson said he and his family finally allowed themselves to ask the inevitable question: “Where would we even go from here?”
To read the full story, visit The Marshall News Messenger.