By Michelle Hanks
Johnetta Pryor, 56, said it was a normal Friday evening for her at her bar, Johnetta’s Pub on Scottsville Road in Bowling Green, while she was waiting for her son.
Jeremy Pryor, Johnetta’s son, was supposed to be on his way to DJ at the pub after he finished his shift at Beijing Tokyo delivering food.
Around 9:30 p.m Johnetta and others at the pub started to worry about Jeremy. She assumed something had happened to him because it wasn’t common for Jeremy to run late without letting his mom know.
Johnetta anxiously texted Jeremy asking where he was. About an hour after she texted him, she saw through the pub doors a group of police officers standing outside.
“So I knew from that moment that Jeremy was gone,” Johnetta said. “I just knew. I walked out and told them, ‘My son’s gone, ain’t he?’”
Arthur C. “Jeremy” Pryor Jr., 32, died on Nov. 21, 2014, in a car accident involving a drunk driver.
Johnetta said her life has been forever changed.
However, even before his death Johnetta worked to dissuade people from drinking and driving.
Years before, Johnetta had outfitted her pub with several precautions to make sure her customers don’t drive home from the bar intoxicated. The phrase “Be Responsible” hangs underneath the name of the pub’s sign and a breathalyzer hangs on a wall in the bar. She and her bartenders will even drive customers home when they’ve had too much to drink.
Despite Johnetta’s years of determination to not let her customers get behind a wheel drunk, she felt like life took an ironic turn when she lost her son to a drunk driver.
“When this happened to Jeremy I just feel like the very thing we’ve been fighting against just, like, blew up right in my face,” Johnetta said.
The bar business is a part of Johnetta’s life; she said she’s been working in the industry for 25 years. But she got into the business for the music, not for the money or the alcohol, she said.
Johnetta describes her family as a music family. She, her husband and her two sons were all involved with music, whether it be singing, playing instruments or writing songs.
Her youngest son Joey, 27, lives in Bowling Green and works several jobs such as a bartender at his mom’s pub and a machine operator. Before his death, Jeremy also lived in Bowling Green and worked as a bartender and a sound man for his mom’s pub; a food deliverer for Beijing Tokyo; an owner of a car mechanic business; and a musician. Jeremy’s biggest passion was making music.
For Johnetta, Jeremy was more than just her son; she said he was her best friend. Their strong relationship was also evident for several who knew Jeremy and Johnetta, like Billie Edgar, 58, one of Johnetta’s bartenders, who has known Johnetta for 11 years.
“Most all mothers love their kids beyond belief, but if there was any mother that could love their son more than anybody else it was her because they were best friends,” Billie said. “They did everything together.”
Jeremy Pryor died on Smallhouse Road and Lois Lane in Bowling Green. According to an article by the Bowling Green Daily News, authorities said Pryor’s Mazda Miata crashed through a utility pole and a fence after it was rear-ended by a Jeep Wrangler.
Pryor was pronounced dead at the scene. Darius Arabadjief, from the Kentucky Medical Examiner’s Office, said that Pryor died from multiple blunt impact injuries, according to the Bowling Green Daily News.
Michael “Drew” Hardy, 20 at the time of the crash, was the other driver involved in the fatal collision. During a three-day trial, law enforcement officials testified that Hardy was driving 90 mph before he collided with Pryor’s car. Hardy’s blood alcohol content was at 0.19, more than double the legal limit.
Hardy was found guilty of wanton murder, three counts of wanton engagement and one count of criminal mischief by a jury on July 22, 2016.
During his testimony on the stand, Hardy said he hated himself and that he was the reason for taking Jeremy’s life, according to an article from WBKO. He also at one point spoke out to the Pryors to express his remorse.
“I’m extremely sorry,” Hardy said in court, according to WBKO. “It was my doing, driving that night. If I could trade places with Jeremy that night and pass away myself… I know I can’t. I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how you feel.”
Multiple people who testified on Hardy’s behalf described him as a good person who made a bad decision. However, Johnetta said she doesn’t feel the same way.
“He had chances,” Johnetta said. “He had several chances that day just to go to sleep or just not get back in the car and he still done it. No I don’t feel any mercy for him. I don’t feel anything.”
Hardy’s parents Mike Hardy, 55, an electronics technician, and Pam Hardy, 52, an office manager, both from Bowling Green, said they doubt the families will be able to reconcile.
“There’s always gonna be a wall,” Mike Hardy said.
Johnetta said she has accepted the fact that Jeremy won’t come back and she tries to continue to live her life without him, but she does not want to leave the pain of losing him.
“The pain is connected to the soul and the heart of everything that happened that day,” Johnetta said. “You have to take love, pain, you know, all of that together.”
Johnetta’s husband, Cecil, said he thinks Johnetta still lives in sorrow.
Kathy Armfield, a retired woman who holds several jobs such as a hairdresser and a nurse, has been friends with Johnetta for 19 years. She said she can still see that Johnetta hurts to this day.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Armfield said. “I can’t make it right. I can’t change it. And it hurts so terribly bad. And not just for me but other people that really care for her. It hurts so bad to see her hurt and totally know there’s nothing you can do, nothing you can say.”
Although Johnetta’s son died from a drunk driver, she said she never thought about the possibility of closing down her bar. She said if she shut down her business it would feel like her business was taken away as well as her son.
Jeremy’s name is written all over the bar. Several photos and memorabilia of Jeremy hang in Johnetta’s Pub such as a large drawing of him that hangs on the wall above the sound booth and his old drum set that has been made into a light fixture. Johnetta said she built the bar the way Jeremy drew it out.
The pub keeps a part of Jeremy close to Johnetta. She describes having a sense of his presence there.
“This bar is Johnetta’s life, I think, because it was Jeremy’s life,” said Deanna Coffey, 53, a friend who has known Johnetta for 13 years.