How To Help

Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to bring Zion James' body back to the Virgin Islands. To donate go here.

An 18-year old Virgin Islands resident who died in a southern Mendocino County car crash this week was remembered by family members and friends Thursday as an intelligent and ambitious man who was an avid spear fisher with a passion for the ocean.

Zion James, of the island of St. Croix, was with a friend on a two-week vacation to California visiting a former classmate who had relocated to the state, according to family members. James had recently graduated high school and was supposed to start college this fall at the University of the Virgin Islands, where he planned to study marine biology and business.

James died Tuesday night after the car he was riding in with three others rolled over on Highway 101 north of Geysers Road, according to the California Highway Patrol.

James’ mother, Stephanie Nelson, also of St. Croix, said her son was the kind of person who won over everyone he met, regardless of their age. In addition to his keen interest in the sea — he caught a fish in the ocean with his bare hands just one day before leaving for California, his mother said — James had also been a member of the Virgin Islands’ Legislative youth advisory council, taking after his uncle, Virgin Islands lawmaker Positive Nelson.

“He was loved by everybody,” Nelson said, pointing to the outpouring of positive comments posted on Facebook in the wake of his death. “There was nothing negative about him at all. He changed a lot of his teenage friends’ lives.”

A GoFundMe page created by a person who identified themselves as a cousin of James’ had already raised nearly $7,000 of its $10,000 goal by Thursday afternoon, with the funds intended to help transport James’ body back to St. Croix and for funeral costs.

James’ aunt Arvian Duval, of Raleigh, North Carolina, described him as “almost a household name in the Virgin Islands.”

“Of course, the island was quite shook up when news of this tragedy was communicated,” Duval said. “People just wanted to see what they can do to help the family try to get through this.”

James was a passenger inside a northbound SUV that rolled over about 6 p.m. Tuesday after the driver, 24-year old Shakela Hill of Ukiah, lost control of the car for “an unknown reason,” the CHP said. James and another passenger from the Virgin Islands, 18-year old Yirakmeal Henry, were ejected from the vehicle. The CHP said they were apparently not wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash.

James was pronounced dead at the scene. Hill, Henry and the other passenger, 18-year old Lynesia Richards of Ukiah, were transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with major injuries. Hill remained in critical condition Thursday, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, according to CHP Officer Chad Ramsey.

The CHP originally identified the victim incorrectly as James Zion.

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or On Twitter @thejdmorris.