A Terrible Tragedy – Ted


Our Bellyacres community kitchen holds lots of stories. Interesting characters of all sexes and ages have eaten at the rustic table, sat on the broken couches and sung along with tunes played on battered guitars. Ted arrived in the fall of 2007 and graced our lives with his youthful spirit for less than four years but in this short time he had a huge presence and made lots of friends at the Belly, in Seaview Estates, in Puna and in Hilo. Everyone loved Ted.

Ted immediately impressed me with his youthful enthusiasm and his ability to soak up any skills he put his mind to. Apart from instantly learning to juggle he studied music, philosophy, and sustainable agriculture. He played piano, guitar, drums, harmonica, and other instruments. At University he was a reporter for the newspaper, sang in the choir and performed with the theater troupe. Ted was in love with life and lived it to the full every single day.

When Ted arrived we were building S.P.A.C.E., our community arts centre, on a minuscule budget. It was only made possible by the labour of love shared by the many interns, like Ted, who stayed and played with us at Bellyacres. In exchange for living with us he banged nails and moved lumber and assisted with the wide range of construction and agricultural work that supported our sustainable community development project.

Our young interns had lots of fun adventures while staying with us and Ted was always a vibrant and popular participant. He loved Big Island waterfalls and was often taking trips to the active lava flows and……. he never missed a party opportunity, and there were many.

I’m not a fan of roller derby’s. In fact I’ve never ever attended a single event. But I wish I had gone to Hilo with my Bellyacres mates on the night of May 28th 2011. It was the the last chance any of us had to spend with this gifted young man. After the games he stood around chatting for a while to our group, gave some hugs, then said goodbye and set off on his moped to ride home.

Ted never made it. A drunk driver in an armoured vehicle hit him at an intersection, dragged him 100 feet and left him dying. The driver had a blood-alcohol content more than three-and-a-half times the legal limit. He later pleaded no contest to negligent homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident and was sentenced to ten years in prison. Between 2003 and 2012 four hundred and forty eight people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in the State of Hawaii with forty percent of roadway fatalities involving alcohol.

In the U.S. about 18,000 people die annually as a result of alcohol related collisions! The U.S. is the third worst country in the world for drunk driving with one in three people likely to participate in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime. Drunk drivers cost the U.S. about $132 billion a year but the real cost is not in dollars but in the loved ones taken too early.

Ted’s father, Donald Braxton, told the court that since his son’s death, he and his wife felt only emptiness where joy used to be. “We have been robbed of a child in whom we have invested 22 years of love, care, nurture and education. We put everything into our children because the future is theirs, not ours. Ted was artistically gifted, exploring in his brief life his abilities to act, to make films, to perform and write music. His desire at the end of his college career was to teach music to children and I’ve watched powerlessly as his mother has cried a river of tears over the past six months.” Donald Braxton said that he wasn’t looking for revenge and that no amount of incarceration could ever compensate for his family’s loss.

After reading things Ted had written, watching his videos and talking to his friends Mitch Roth, the County Prosecutor, said, “This young man was an up-and-coming star. And just like that, his light was turned out. It’s a tragedy.”

Our whole community and many at the University were devastated. How could such a terrible event happen to such a wonderful human being? Although numbed by pain we organised a memorial for Ted at S.P.A.C.E. just six days after his death. The emotions of everyone in attendance were raw but, instead of raging at the loss we all felt, we channeled our thoughts and feelings into celebrating the bright and beautiful life of this brilliant young man.

I painted two gaudy banners with the Hawaiian word ‘AUWE’ as an exclamation of disappointment or despair. Auwe is used when something bad or sad has happened it means “darn,” “oh no,” “I’m sorry,” that’s awful,” “groan,” “moan” or “grieve.” In the Maori language it means “woe” and “howl” or “cry.”  It was a wonderful sacred event. We set up a chair for his presence to occupy during the ceremony with his guitar alongside and also created a beautiful shrine ordained with flower and other tributes.

It was a huge turnout with his family, friends, fellow students, university faculty and even the County Prosecutor (now our current Mayor). We sang, we listened to a recording of Ted’s music, we told stories, we laughed and we cried. The focus was not on Ted’s death but on the joy that he had brought to each of us there.  Then we gathered outside and walked in a spiral of life

Ted will always be remembered and his renegade spirit lives on in the hearts of all of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

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