The holidays are a time of hope and happiness.
But on Dec. 24, 2011, Kristine and Denis Aubut's Christmastime errands ended with tragedy. That day, their son was the victim of a terrible accident.
Maui High junior Zachariah Samuel Aubut was helping his friend, Kyle Hughes, in broad daylight find his cell with the "Find My Phone" online program, which located it on the side of Mokulele Highway. As they crossed the road to return to Zach's Jeep, he was struck by a speeding car and died at the scene.
Last December’s holiday season was clouded by tragedy for the Aubut family of Maui, when 17-year-old Zach was fatally struck by a car in the middle of the afternoon along the Mokulele Highway. “When you think of Zachariah, smile,” said father Denis. “He loved his Maui ‘ohana. Mahalo to those helping us through this endless nightmare… Zachariah loved his family, so in his remembrance, keep family first and tell them you love them every chance you get.”
Coincidentally, his parents were on their way home from shopping.
"Cops passed us about midway between GameStop and the scene of an accident," said Kristine. "Motherly instincts came in and I told my husband to call Zach EMS answered We knew immediately it was bad."
They arrived at the scene but were unable to go to their dying son. Instead, police threw her husband to the ground as if he was being arrested, said Kristine.
"It was horrible not to be able to hold his hand one last time," she said. "The next time I touched him, he was in his coffin."
The investigation confirmed the driver was traveling nearly 60 mph when she hit Zach. There were no indications that she attempted to brake or swerve before the collision. The driver was treated for minor lacerations, questioned and released. No citation was issued.
According to a case investigator from the Maui Police Department, she was not at fault. The Aubuts have since requested a reinvestigation of the case.
"Zach's death hit us, the community and his friends very hard," said Kristine. "His teachers and friends brought us a great deal of comfort from their support and love for Zach. He was a great kid... "
Kristine didn't realize, though, how much he had affected the teachers and students until after he passed.
"They told me stories of him helping them out, giving kids rides when they didn't have one or were in bad situation," she said. "He always was a shoulder to lean on, and a mentor to several 3D modeling students in the technology program at Maui High School, staying afterschool to help others."
At his celebration of life, one teacher gave Kristine an essay Zach had written in October 2011 called "A Life Changing Experience." (View it online at www.zachariahaubutfoundation.org/id1.html.)
In the essay, Zach shared his frustrations with career pursuits in art, but how an innovative program in his Design Technology course blessed his world.
"This class changed my life not the class itself, but what I found in the class," Zach wrote. "This amazing computer 3D modeling design program called Maya Finally, I had found what I looked so hard to find--a way to get my ideas and thoughts onto paper, or realistically, just a visible form of art."
The Aubut family moved around a lot during Zach's childhood--from Texas to Alaska--then found solace in paradise on Maui.
"He never really knew what he wanted to do, but of course, he knew it would be in the engineering or science and technology arena," said Kristine.
"Through perseverance and never giving up on dreams, I was able to find my 'true calling' as some would say, and create 3D models of my unimaginable imagination," Zach concluded his essay. He planned on attending Vancouver College for its animation program.
Inspired by this essay, Kristine chose to carry on her son's dreams and created the Zach Aubut Foundation for Youth (ZAFY). It donates funds raised to Maui High School's CTE Industrial and Engineering Technology Program, but also provides scholarships, and has already awarded two $1,200 gifts to 2012 graduates.
"These kids deserve to go to college and pursue their dreams in the technology field," said Kristine.
The family has also created the "ONE CHANCE" program for youth and adults, and includes green bracelets which spread awareness by peers for peers.
"The wristband is the reminder to live life like Zachary did," said Kristine. "He never took opportunities for granted, and always made the best with what he had."
Zach would have turned 18 this week on Sept. 4, but this youth was a man long before. He stood up for what he believed in, helped his friends, loved his family and found joy in life.
"Zach gave me the confidence I could never attain myself," said friend Austin Gilbreth.
The Maui community is invited to help support other young creative enthusiasts to achieve an education in technology and pursue their dreams as Zach as planned to do.
Visit www.zafy.org to learn more about the Zach Aubut Foundation for Youth and purchase your "ONE CHANCE" wristband, or visit the Life Is Good store in Lahaina.