A stuntwoman killed while filming a scene for the movie “Deadpool 2” in Vancouver on Monday is being remembered as a pioneering motorcycle road racer who lived her life to the fullest.
Joi (SJ) Harris was a true personification of her first name, friends say, as she exuded happiness and had an ever-present smile.
“She played by her own rules and lived her life to the fullest by following her motto: If it’s not a challenge, it’s boring,” said Kim Edwards, who said they were “besties” and she affectionately called Harris her “lil sis.”
“She will always have a place in my heart.”
The BC Coroners Service identified Harris, 40, as the stunt driver killed on the movie set in downtown Vancouver. Spokesman Andy Watson said Harris, a resident of New York City, died at the scene.
Witnesses said she appeared to lose control of her motorcycle while filming outside the Vancouver Convention Centre and crashed through a ground floor window of an office building across the street.
A memorial of flowers and candles has been set up at the scene in front of the boarded-up window. A message written on one of the candles reads, “Brave, beautiful and free.”
Harris’s Facebook page was updated Tuesday with a statement that called her ”an extraordinary woman with a passion for riding and motorsports. She was known for her beautiful spirit and bubbly personality.”
“She was fearless and relentless in her pursuit of her dream, to ride as a motorsports professional,” the statement said. “She was living her dream, when her life was suddenly cut short while filming as a stunt rider. She will be dearly missed by her race fans all over the world.”
Harris described herself on her website as the “first licensed African-American woman in U.S. history to actively compete in (American Motorcyclist Association) sanctioned, motorcycle road racing events.”
James Holter, vice-president of the American Motorcyclist Association, said it was difficult to confirm her claim. The group has many African-American female members but does not collect ethnicity information when licences are issued, he said.
“I think her skill, both at the controls of a motorcycle and in representing herself, I think have gone a long way, not just to advance African-American female motorcyclists but all motorcyclists,” he said.
Kevin Elliott, president of the American Sportbike Racing Association, said Harris began racing with the association’s beginner-level Champion Cup Series in 2014 and this year moved up to a “feeder” series that is meant to prepare riders for racing at an expert level.
Harris loved the freedom, the excitement and the adrenaline rush that motorcycles brought her, said Elliott, adding he will always remember her smile.
“She would get off the track and even before she’d pull her helmet off, she’d have a grin from ear to ear. No matter what happened, whether it was good or bad during that race, she would always get off the bike just like she had won the race,” he remembered.
“It’s the pure joy of being able to get out and compete and do your best. She always showed that, every day.”
For the first two years she was racing on a bike that was too big, but when she switched to a bike that was more suited to her size, her talent showed itself to be “very promising,” he said.
Harris hadn’t won yet, but she came in third at a race involving amateurs and experts in West Virginia in May, a proud moment for her, Elliott said. A photo taken after the race shows her smiling next to her bike.
He said the association does not allow tricks on the racetrack and he didn’t know what experience she had doing stunt work.
A spokeswoman for 20th Century Fox said the movie’s production had been shut down on Monday and Tuesday and she couldn’t say when filming would begin again.
Watson said separate investigations of the crash are underway by the coroner’s service and WorkSafeBC, the province’s workplace safety agency. He said the coroner’s report will be released publicly when it is complete.