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Dozens gather to save memorial cross

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NORTH BEND Toting homemade signs that read, "King

County, why?" and "Don't DOT," dozens

of supporters rallied on North Bend Way this weekend to show their support

for Brandon Blount's memorial.

The petitioners collected about 700 signatures of support which

will be sent to the Department of Transportation within the next

several weeks.

"It's a protest against the DOT and their arbitrary ruling, and it's a

rally in support of keeping the memorial here," said Amy Blount,

Brandon's mother.

Several weeks ago the county announced that it would

remove Brandon's cross on Sept. 8, but decided to postpone the removal

until they were able to meet with the Blount family and hopefully come to

an agreeable conclusion.

Since then, the county has pledged to work with the family to either

relocate the memorial or erect a sign in Brandon's memory. The family

agreed that a county safety marker would be a wonderful addition to the

memorial, but insists that their son's cross

should remain where it is.

"I would love to have a sign with Brandon's name and it would

say, `Please buckle up,'&" said Tony Blount, Brandon's father. "But not at the

expense of sacrificing the memorial that was set up in love by friends and

family."

Supporters at the rally echoed the same sentiments as they stood

side-by-side near Tanner Road to save Brandon's memorial from being

removed.

"I didn't see any reason why it should be taken down," said

18-year-old Brandon Howatson, who was with Brandon Blount on the night of

the accident. "It's a reminder to drive safely."

It was still painful for Howatson to talk about the fatal accident

that happened two years ago. On Sept. 29, 1997, the two young men were on

their way to McDonalds when another car entered their lane on North Bend

Way and hit them head on. Blount was airlifted to Harborview Medical

Center where he later died. Howatson received major facial injuries from

the accident and will soon be going through his third round of

reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.

On Saturday, as Howatson stood on the side of the road where he

lost his best friend, he said he was thankful that so many people showed up

for the rally.

"All these people here are my friends, and I'm happy to see they

believe as strongly as me about having the cross and the reasons it's

there," he said. "It's overwhelming on

how much love is out here."

Another friend of the family said he decided to spend the afternoon

at the rally to try to convince the community that accidents can happen

to anyone.

"I hope that people who come by and see the signs will take an

interest and know this can be them someday," said Steve Thoreson of North

Bend. "I saw the pain the family went through, and the least I can do is

show them that they're not alone."

North Bend resident JoAnn Klacsan said even though she

didn't know the Blount family, she knows that the emotions that accompany

the loss of a loved one are universal.

"I lost my son in 1975, two weeks before his 14th birthday, and you

don't forget that," she said as she held a

sign at the rally. "Losing a child is about the worst thing; it just doesn't go

away, but you try to assist other families."

Klacsan added that the memorials in the Valley and beyond serve as

a reminder to everyone that a tragedy had taken place there and that each

of the crosses has a story behind it.

But Linda Dougherty, assistant manager of the Roads Division,

said Brandon's memorial cross would still need to be removed from the

county's right-of-way.

"I indicated [to the Blounts] that the county would still see

ultimate resolution to have the memorial removed to another location," she said.

Dougherty said no action would be taken until later this year because

the county realizes that the upcoming third anniversary of Brandon's

death will be an emotional time for the family.

"We're not going to do anything immediate to be respectful of

the grief process," she said.

Besides the handful of negative calls to the DOT and several

comments from passing motorists, the Blounts said the love and support

they received from the community has helped them deal with this situation.

"The people worked so tirelessly for us and we had people all day

long giving their whole hearts," Amy said. "It really restored some of our faith

in humanity because I was feeling really low."

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