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Family remembers woman killed in boat crash as a ‘force’

Juliette Côté, 22, was one of three young people who died following a May 18 boat collision on Buck Bay, about an hour north of Kingston, Ont. Her family says she was strong-willed and sincerely loving.

Juliette Côté was a recent grad and ran an interior design company with her mom

A young woman with long, curling auburn hair smiles in the kitchen of a well-appointed home.

When Juliette Côté was 12 or 13 years old, she marched around the neighbourhood, handing out business cards offering her services as a babysitter.

Once she got her foot in the door, that entrepreneurial streak didn't quit. The precocious teen convinced parents to let her organize their homes, labelling toy bins and cleaning up kitchens.

By the time she was 22, Juliette had started a successful home staging company with her mom, had just graduated with distinction from St. Lawrence College and was about to complete the final exam for her real estate licence.

"She had high goals and aspirations and she was going to meet them all," said her mother, Alison Côté.

'You feel like a piece of you is just gone'

Juliette was killed, along with two others, when a pair of boats collided on eastern Ontario's Bobs Lake around 9:30 p.m. on May 18. Five people were injured.

Juliette's parents said the grief comes in waves.

"You're just absolutely gutted," explained her mother. "You feel like a piece of you is just gone. Basically, we're going to be starting our life over as of now."

Despite the pain and difficulty, Jimmy and Alison Côté said they want to share their daughter's story to provide a glimpse of what was lost that day on the water.

They describe Juliette as a "force" — equal parts strong-willed and sincerely loving.

She was the person who organized family holidays and birthday parties, coming up with games and prizes to make the celebrations special.

Jimmy said Juliette could make him laugh harder than anyone else. Every Christmas she helped him buy and wrap just the right present for Alison.

That kind and thoughtful nature embraced everyone around her.

Alison said when her sister lost a daughter, Juliette did her best to provide comfort, picking out a card and gift every Mother's Day so her aunt would know she was loved.

Juliette had been enjoying the Victoria Day long weekend at a friend's family cottage on Bobs Lake, about an hour north of Kingston, Ont.

Her parents said they'd texted with her all morning and heard about the group boating around, playing games and listening to music.

"It's a comfort to us knowing that she had an amazing day for her last day," said Alison.

The couple was in Niagara Falls at the time, celebrating a friend's 50th birthday.

Around 10 p.m. someone who had been staying at the cottage with Juliette called them, saying there'd been an accident and she was receiving CPR.

Alison said she and Jimmy immediately packed up and started driving toward their daughter, calling their son Jack and telling him to meet them at the hospital.

"We were about halfway home on [Highway] 401 when my son had to call us to let us know that he had learned that she had passed," she said. "That was pretty awful."

Investigation continues

The Côtés said they spoke with police that night, who told them it was going to be a long and complex investigation. They're planning to meet with investigators next week.

Ontario Provincial Police have not shared any information about whether or not charges will be laid, but said they're continuing to probe the crash involving a open-topped fishing boat and a speedboat.

In a May 24 update, police asked anyone with video of the collision, or even showing either vessel involved earlier in the day, to contact them.

The two other people killed in the collision were Riley Orr, 23 and Kaila Bearman, 21.

An obituary for Orr describes him as a good friend to many, with "huge, kind heart" and the ability to light up a room with his smile.

Bearman's smile is also being remembered as a bright spot in the lives of her loved ones.

"We will not let darkness overpower the light, joy, determination, and passion that was this beautiful young lady," her obituary reads.

CBC has tried to contact those families and has not heard back.

'She knew true love in her life. However short'

Ben Viau, Juliette's boyfriend, was also hurt in the collision and is still recovering.

The Côtés said their daughter loved him deeply, like nothing they'd ever seen before.

"We were so happy that she knew true love in her life. However short," said Alison.

Some time ago Juliette — always the organized one — put together a stack of photo albums packed with pictures of family, friends and Ben.

On Tuesday, as rain fell outside their Kingston-area home, she beamed from every page her parents turned.

In a family so tight-knit, Juliette's absence can be felt anywhere.

Jimmy said he's still afraid to go into rooms she used to frequent in the house, worried he might accidentally move something out of place and she won't be there to put it back where it belongs.

For Alison, the dozens of daily text messages she exchanged with her daughter are missing.

She knows there will be no more milkshake or sushi dates after a long day working together.

"It just still seems pretty surreal to us. We keep expecting her to walk in," Alison said, fighting tears. "She had the most beautiful smile."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Taekema

Reporter

Dan Taekema is CBC’s reporter covering Kingston, Ont. and the surrounding area. He’s worked in newsrooms in Chatham, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.

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