2021 | Schools

Walter Johnson graduate killed in crash remembered as happy, loving

Another grad also died in crash; two others in car were injured

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Jaidon Smith

Photo courtesy the Smith family

On a dark, dreary morning, a Montgomery County family said goodbye to a Walter Johnson High School senior killed this week in a crash, a jarring contrast to the celebration a week earlier, when the sun shone on the teen as he graduated.

In a ceremony laced with the pain of parents forced to bury their son, siblings who lost a close friend, and classmates grappling with death, mourners gathered and grieved.

But they also shared stories and laughed.

Jaidon Smith of Silver Spring was one of two recent Walter Johnson graduates killed in the crash on Wednesday in West Virginia. Two others were seriously injured. The group was on their way to a post-graduation trip when their car hit a wet spot on the road and flipped into an embankment, according to Smith’s father, Troy.

Camille Gagné, 18, of Kensington, also died in the crash.

The Hardy County (W.Va.) Sheriff’s Office identified the passengers who were injured as Derrick Priester, 18, of Kensington and Anders Spear, 17, of Bethesda.

In a press release, the sheriff’s office said “high speed and wet road conditions are believed to have contributed” to the crash.

The funeral was held on Friday morning in Clarksburg. It also was shown online through a live stream. The family shared a link and invited the public to watch.

Troy Smith, Jaidon’s father and a teacher at Sligo Creek Elementary School, said during the funeral service that Jaidon struggled in school until he was enrolled in the gifted and talented/learning disabled program at Walter Johnson.

It changed Jaidon’s life for the better, transforming him from a student who his family feared may never get his diploma to one who thrived.

The family has established a scholarship fund in Jaidon’s memory to support the program.

“He went from a kid who couldn’t pass a class … to a kid who would knock it out of the park and was able to advocate for himself,” Jaidon’s mother, Jessica, said during the service.

Troy added: “All I ask is that you give a chance for another child who was brilliant and just needs help organizing to get what they need.”

Jaidon’s sisters remembered him as happy, loving and smart. They shared their comfort in knowing that Jaidon spent his final moments laughing and with his friends.

In describing his ingenuity, one sister recalled a time Jaidon bought new Nerf guns, but didn’t think they shot the foam darts hard or fast enough. So he took them apart and rebuilt them. And it worked.

Jaidon planned to attend Towson University and study molecular biology and bioinformatics.

“On Wednesday, I lost my best friend. I’m still in denial, just hoping this is a bad dream and he’s going to come back from his trip soon,” one sister said. “But I know that’s not going to happen, and that hurts.”

Others shared quirky stories about Jaidon, like the time when he was 4 and asked his mom asked if the chicken he was eating was “the same leg the chicken walked on?” When she said yes, Jaidon decided he would never eat chicken again.

He also didn’t like broccoli because “he didn’t want to eat little trees.”

But he was a fan of pizza, pasta and candy, and was known for making macaroni and cheese at 1 a.m.

Jaidon studied robotics in high school and made many close friends through the program. During Friday’s service, Troy addressed the young people in attendance, and said Jaidon’s friends “are part of my family now, for the rest of our lives.”

One speaker noted that the Smiths having to bury their son was “out of order.”

“This is just not the way life and death is supposed to unfold,” the speaker said. “… There’s no theology that can explain why we can’t have 10 more decades, or even 10 more years, 10 more weeks, 10 more days, 10 more minutes, or 10 more seconds with Jaidon.”

Donations to the scholarship fund in Jaidon’s name can be made in the form of a check to Walter Johnson High School, with “scholarship” in the memo line. Donations can also be made online.

In a press release, the Hardy County Sheriff’s Office wrote that authorities received a call about a single-vehicle crash on U.S. 48 at about 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

The vehicle had left the roadway, went through the guardrails and went over a steep embankment, stopping about 300 feet north of the road.

Gagné was driving the vehicle and Smith was a passenger in the rear seat, the sheriff’s office said.

Spear and Priester were taken to Grant Memorial Hospital in Petersburg for treatment. Neither was listed as a patient late Friday afternoon.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com