By Tina Pappas
for Montclair Local
Deshon Johnson was a 22-year-old college student with a promising future when he was struck and killed by a bus on the corner of Broad Street and Bay Avenue in Bloomfield on July 18, 2012.
For his mother Naomi Johnson, the mourning is still as fresh as the day her son’s life was cut short while standing and waiting for a bus one summer morning. Six years later, almost to the day, a crowd gathered near where the No. 709 Coach USA bus hit the young Montclair resident. Their grief , as well as still seeking justice, keep them meeting every year.
The family had moved to Montclair from East Orange in 1998. Deshon was set to transfer to Montclair State University in the fall of 2012, and was also pursuing a career as a hip hop artist under the name Sean Cos Mason. Deshon’s friend, Christine Nobel Ross, was also struck and killed in a transit bus accident in East Orange in January 2012. At the time of his death, Deshon was attending college at Essex County College, while working part-time to support his mother, who was disabled as a result of a car crash.
“My son was my only child and he was an honors student. A loving, caring and humble person who was always willing to help out,” she said, as she turned her head to look upon the spot where he died.
A civil action lawsuit filed in Essex County Superior Court by Naomi Johnson against Coach USA and the bus driver, Wilsone Romain, was settled out of court in April for an undisclosed amount.
According to Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the case was presented to the Grand Jury, which never indicted Romain.
“The Grand Jury did not indict him after the facts were presented,” she said.
According to Naomi Johnson, several witnesses say the bus driver did not stop and jumped the curb that Deshon stood on while waiting for the bus, killing him as the bus rolled over him twice and dragged him over 50 feet before stopping. The Exxon gas station located across the street from the stop released to police security camera surveillance video of the accident.
During civil suit testimony in April 2017, Romain, 67, admitted to violations that included unsafe operation of a motor vehicle offense, speeding and failure to comply with police instruction, according to the transcripts.
“This tragic incident was investigated and vetted by the Essex County Prosecutors office. Ms. Johnson filed suit against Community Coach and the bus operator. She was represented by skilled counsel during that time frame and this litigation lasted almost four years. The litigation culminated in a confidential financial settlement in January 2018, whereby Ms. Johnson accepted a sum of money for complete resolution of all of her claims against Community Coach and the bus operator,” said Sean Hughes, Director of Corporate Affairs, Coach USA North America.
“This [settlement] does not really help because Deshon is still gone,” Naomi Johnson said. “He was helping me with my disability and I’ll never see him again or experience being a grandmother. My son is dead and I want justice. My life has never been the same.”
An Exxon employee said he still recalls that morning when heard the chilling screams of those who witnessed the accident.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he recounted.
A scholarship fund has been set up in Deshon’s memory. The Deshon Johnson College Scholarship Foundation raises money for college students. The foundation also raises awareness for victims killed by public transit buses and supports grieving parents.