FARGO — Several pairs of sneakers sit piled up in the Johnson family’s doorway. Wherever Isaiah Johnson went, there were at least two pairs of shoes with him — and they ended up everywhere.

Every time Isaiah’s mom, Becky, walked through the door, she told him to pick them up. The shoe pile was the bane of her existence.

Now, Isaiah’s not here, and the pile remains — like it will for a long time.

“They’re gonna sit there until I’m ready to move them because I’m never going to be able to tell him to pick them up again,” Becky said.

Isaiah, a 2018 graduate of Fargo South, died from injuries sustained in a suspected drunken driving crash Saturday, Feb. 13. He was the passenger of the vehicle, which was being driven by a Fargo man who is accused of driving drunk. Isaiah died of his injuries in the hospital. He was 21 years old.

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Beloved former Bruins basketball player Isaiah Johnson leaves behind a positive legacy. Johnson died from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle crash Feb. 13. Photo special to The Forum
Beloved former Bruins basketball player Isaiah Johnson leaves behind a positive legacy. Johnson died from injuries sustained in a single-vehicle crash Feb. 13. Photo special to The Forum

“He was the best kid anybody could ask for. I didn’t deserve him,” Becky said. “He had an impact on everybody that ever met him. Everybody that met him loved him and he loved everybody that he met. He was just an all-around good kid.”

Becky has been driving around with a pair of his basketball shoes he left in her van when he went to play basketball recently. She can’t bring herself to take them out.

Isaiah played basketball at Fargo South. In baseball terminology, he was what head coach Mike Hendrickson considered a utility player. The Bruins used him at guard, forward and anywhere else they needed to pencil someone in.

“He was a really good athlete, so defensively we could put him on the best player on the other team,” Hendrickson said.

Isaiah still followed the Bruins after he graduated and had recently gone to watch the boys team play over Christmas break. His life was basketball, Becky said.

Isaiah started playing the sport as a kid in Y-Ball through the YMCA. He was a Lakers fan at heart, Becky said. The day Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, was gut-wrenching for the entire family. Isaiah also left behind a younger sister, Josepine, 14.

It was just the three of them — Becky, Isaiah and Josepine — at home. It always had been. Isaiah was the “man of the house,” and made sure his little sister and mom were taken care of, Becky said.

“He knew what we had wasn’t much, but what we had was a gift,” Becky said. “And he lived everyday like it was. I want people to live like that. He treated everybody like they were his friend. It didn’t matter who you were, where you were from, what you were. He would befriend you and he loved you.”

Isaiah was unemployed at the time of his death, at home with his family. He was waiting to get back to landscaping in the spring. He did snow removal work last year, but there hasn’t been much of that this winter.

A Facebook memory shows Isaiah Johnson painting his little sister’s fingernails before Valentine’s Day in 2014. “That’s just who he was,” said Becky Johnson, Isaiah’s mom.
A Facebook memory shows Isaiah Johnson painting his little sister’s fingernails before Valentine’s Day in 2014. “That’s just who he was,” said Becky Johnson, Isaiah’s mom.

Isaiah made friends easily, and everywhere he went. He went to Grace Lutheran School from kindergarten through eighth grade, and switched to public school for his freshman year. Becky knew he’d be OK, but was still concerned about the transition.

In no time, he fit right in at South.

“He always had a smile. He was always happy-go-lucky,” said Hendrickson, who got to know Isaiah well in his four years at South. “He wasn’t going to be mad at people. He was always going to be that friend for everybody. He was such a good young man and just wanted to be there to support other people.”

Isaiah was of a quieter nature, but people knew when he was around, Hendrickson said.

2018 Fargo South graduate Isaiah Johnson, who died from injuries sustained a single-vehicle crash at 21 years old, played basketball for the Bruins. The team is “playing their hearts out” for Johnson. Photo special to The Forum
2018 Fargo South graduate Isaiah Johnson, who died from injuries sustained a single-vehicle crash at 21 years old, played basketball for the Bruins. The team is “playing their hearts out” for Johnson. Photo special to The Forum

“He had a smile that would light up a room,” Becky said. “Never saw him without it.”

There are two kids on the current Bruins roster who played with Isaiah, but the entire Bruins bench has rallied behind the Johnsons and have “played their hearts out for him” since Feb. 13.

“That’s what Isaiah would want,” Becky said.

Hendrickson has spoken to his players about the accident. They’ve talked about the goods, the bads and the memories.

“I really feel that amongst our kids here at Fargo South, whether they’re football or basketball kids or whatever they play, they all have a close-knit bond, kind of like their own family,” Hendrickson said. “And when something happens, it really stands out. Hopefully, it’s a learnable lesson to everybody.”

Cass County prosecutors filed charges against the driver of the vehicle in the crash last week, Feb. 16, which include a Class A felony of criminal vehicular homicide. Elijah Jace Viestenz, 19, of Fargo, was the driver of the vehicle who’s accused of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Becky continues to run the gamut of emotions. Anger. Pain. Sadness.

“Yesterday, I was OK after the charges got filed,” Becky said last week. “But the fact that he’s still sitting not in jail, I’m angry again today.”

She’s had moments of happiness when she sees messages from people she doesn’t know, who were friends of Isaiah’s, telling her the impact he made on their lives.

“They’ll say, ‘He was such a great kid. He had such a positive impact on everyone around him. He always left an impression,’” Becky said of the messages.

That’s what she wants out there. She doesn’t want his memory to be surrounded by the negativity of what happened to him. She’ll have to live with that for the rest of her life.

A poster of Isaiah going in for a layup, wearing his No. 13 Bruins jersey and white shoes, has hung in the hallway at South for a few years. Hendrickson has walked by it everyday since Isaiah graduated, and he’ll continue to. The poster will remain in the halls, now serving as a reminder of the impact he made on the school.

Donations can be made to “The Family Of Isaiah J Johnson Benefit Fund” at Bell Bank, 3100 13th Ave. S., Fargo, or electronically on Facebook. Funds from the Facebook fundraiser, found here, will go directly into the Bell Bank account. A Meal Train is also active.