James Darby was a typical 17-year-old kid. The baby of his family, he was a senior at Liverpool High School who liked paintball, video games, cars and going for long walks. Like any boy his age, he was reluctant to be caught in the embraces of the women in his life, but he was starting to grow out of that.
“He would never let me hug him,” said his aunt Kiki. “He’d roll his eyes when I’d kiss him on the cheek. But the last few times I saw him, he kissed me on the cheek. He was maturing. He was starting to become a man.”
Sadly, James Darby, Jimmy to his friends and family, won’t get to become a man. He died last Sunday night as a result of injuries suffered when he lost control of the car he was driving and crashed in Auburn. Now his family is left to wonder why, left with nothing but memories of the boy they loved.
Jimmy’s family shared those memories this weekend, hoping to give the community a glimpse of their son, brother, nephew, uncle and cousin.
“He walked a lot,” his mother Darlene recalled. “He would walk all throughout the neighborhood (the Darbys live on Kies Drive) 10 times a day. Sometimes he’d walk all the way to Long Branch Park.
“It was his thinking time,” said sister Theresa. “He’d put on his headphones and just go for miles. He didn’t like us to tag along; we were too slow.”
Darlene recalled a time when Jimmy was so lost in his thoughts that he ended up in another town entirely.
“He called me crying,” she said. “He was lost. He said he was somewhere that started with an ‘S.’ I said, ‘Skaneateles?!?’ But he was in Solvay. I drove out to Lakeland to pick him up.”
Jimmy’s walks took him past neighboring homes often. Several neighbors stopped by to recall the boy.
“One of our neighbors told us that she was trying to get a box out of her trunk once,” Darlene said. “It was heavy and she was having trouble. Jimmy was walking by and stopped and asked if he could help. He brought it inside for her.”
While he walked to think, Jimmy did other things for fun. At the top of his list was paintball.
“He lived for paintball,” his mother said. “He was a real fanatic. He used to referee at Play to Win in Fayetteville. He was great out there.”
In this position, Jimmy’s caring personality showed again.
“At his funeral, one of his friends came up to me and told me that once a boy in a wheelchair came (to Play to Win),” Darlene said. “He had cerebral palsy. He wanted to play, to feel what it was like. Jimmy took him all around the course and showed him everything and let him shoot the gun.”
Like many other boys his age, Jimmy also enjoyed video games, Jim Carrey movies, the street magic of Criss Angel and comedian Ron White. Schoolwork wasn’t his favorite, but he had promised his mother he would graduate this year. However, unlike some of his peers, Jimmy never drank or used drugs.
“He was just not that kind of kid,” Darlene said. “He had no piercings, no tattoos, he didn’t drink or smoke. He’d go to parties where they would be drinking, but it wasn’t a problem. He just wasn’t interested in it.”
It was because of Jimmy that Darlene quit smoking a year ago.
“He didn’t like being around cigarette smoke,” she said. “He made me quit.” She looked at the pack of cigarettes sitting in front of her on the table. “I started again the day he died. Everyone said, no, he’d be so mad at you. But I was pretty mad at him right then I’m going to try to quit again.”
[Friends and family]
Darlene will have plenty of support. The community came out in force to say goodbye to Jimmy at his wake Thursday Sept. 21 and his funeral Friday Sept. 22.
“The people that came, it was phenomenal,” Darlene said. “There was such an outpouring of people. It was wonderful.”
The Darby family was especially touched by the many different groups of people who identified Jimmy as a friend.
“He had all of these friends,” Darlene said. “He had the paintball kids, kids from school, people he’d known for years. He wasn’t out of place with anyone. At his funeral, everyone came together for him.”
In addition to friends, Jimmy’s family, both biological and honorary, reminisced about him. He was the youngest in the family; his two sisters, Theresa and Shannon, have long since moved out of the house and started families of their own. Niece Megan and nephew Christopher looked up to him.
“He was an all-around good kid,” Darlene said.
Despite the fact that his father wasn’t a big part of his life, Jimmy had plenty of male role models. In addition to his uncle and his sisters’ husbands, Big Brother John Percival was a big part of the boy’s life.
“I work for P.E.A.C.E.,” Darlene said. “I signed him up for the Big Brother program when he was almost 11. The guys who ran it said they thought they had the perfect match for him, and they were right. John’s been a great influence. They’ve been together for seven years.”
But his best friend isn’t even human. Jimmy got Dizzy, an all-white cat, in 1993 at the age of 3 or 4.
“He loved that cat,” Darlene recalled. “He roamed the neighborhood, just like Jimmy did.”
Jimmy was with his best human friends the night he died. Ryan Walker, 19, and his brother Justin, 17, were in the car at the time of the accident. Ryan was pronounced dead at the scene. Justin was not seriously hurt.
“Him and Justin and Ryan, they were friends for life,” Darlene said.
The Walker boys used to live across the street from the Darby family on Kies Drive. Darlene recalled how the boys became friends.
“The day we moved in, Justin came over and said, ‘Did I see a boy around here?'” Darlene said. “I said, ‘yeah, that’s my son Jimmy.’ Justin asked if he might want to play. I sent him upstairs to get Jimmy. That was 1999. They’ve been friends ever since.”
“He didn’t leave old friends behind,” Kiki said of her nephew. “He just kept making new ones.”
Jimmy’s friendship with Ryan Walker was sustained with a mutual love of fun. Jimmy’s family recalled the pair as “jokesters.”
“Once they had this idea to go over to West Side Manor [an assisted living facility on Long Branch Road] dressed as the Grim Reaper and hand out candy,” Darlene said with a laugh. “They had a wonderful friendship. I don’t think they ever got mad at each other.”
Jimmy was in Auburn visiting the Walkers at the time of the accident. He had gone out to spend the weekend with the boys but promised his mother he would be home in time for school Monday morning.
“They had gone to the mall,” Darlene said. “I think they were on their way home.”
Darlene wasn’t home at the time of the accident, but she had been trying to get a hold of her son.
“I was at Wal-Mart and I called him to ask if he needed anything, like I always did,” she said. “He didn’t answer his phone. I didn’t really worry, because his friends said sometimes he left his phone in the car.”
Darlene returned home to find a message on the machine from University Hospital telling her to call right away. Daughter Shannon got through to the hospital, who asked the family to get there as soon as possible.
“We were waiting there for a while when a policeman came and told us about [Ryan’s death],” she said. “Jimmy was in surgery. He said it was the worst accident he’d ever seen.”
Shortly thereafter, a doctor emerged to advise the family that nothing more could be done for Jimmy.
“They’d done all they could,” Darlene said. “He’d just lost so much blood. They wanted us to have our time with him.”
“The hospital was very good to us,” Shannon said. “They let the whole family stay with him until the end.”
Jimmy died Sunday night from internal injuries suffered in the crash. Police determined the cause of the accident to be driver inexperience and speed. Jimmy had gotten his license only a month before.
[A life remembered]
Darlene and her family, devastated by the loss, can only hope that others will learn from Jimmy’s death. His excessive speed combined with his inexperience cost him his life and took the life of one of his best friends. The Darbys hope that parents will tell their children not to ride with speeders.
“We warn our kids not to get in the car with someone who’s been drinking,” Darlene said. “Why not kids who drive too fast?”
Teenagers who drive with more than one other teenage passenger are far more likely to drive recklessly and to get into an accident. The Darbys hope some good will come out of Jimmy’s death in that teens will think twice before riding with inexperienced drivers or showing off for their friends on the road. They think Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh’s STOPPED program, which alerts parents every time a teenaged driver is pulled over, is a step in the right direction. But it’s not enough.
“Schools don’t have driver’s ed anymore,” Kiki said. “They need that, just to have someone to keep an eye on their driving and to get that much more experience.”
“We need to do something to open the eyes of high school kids,” Theresa said.
“I want to put up a billboard with his picture on it,” Darlene said. “I want to put it somewhere where every teenager will see it and think about what happened to my son. It’ll have his picture and say, ‘Love me enough to tell me to slow down.'”
Darlene has established a fund in her son’s name. Once his funeral expenses are paid, she’d like to use the rest of the money to rent that billboard. To contribute, send money to Darlene Darby, 105 Kies Drive, Liverpool, NY 13088.
The Darbys know that young drivers do reckless things; they just hope kids will think about their actions first.
“(Jimmy) was just a kid who made the wrong decision,” Theresa said. “You can’t start over.”
No one knows that better than Darlene. “All you have left is just a memory.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.