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Battle Wages over memorial cross
NORTH BEND - Two years ago, the Blount family of North Bend
had to say goodbye to their only son Brandon, who died in a car
This year, they're afraid that they will also lose the
memorial that marks the site where the 19-year-old lost his life.
The situation began last year, when several people called the
King County Department of Transportation and complained about the
Blount's memorial on the corner of North Bend Way and Tanner
Road. According to the King County Code, only a few things are
allowed in the county's right-of-way, and the list did not
include memorials. So, officials told the Blounts they needed to
remove the cross.
The family immediately mobilized efforts to oppose the DOT's
order and gathered almost 300 signatures in support of the
"We wrote a letter to [the DOT] and I begged them and
said, `Please do not destroy our son's memory," said Tony
Blount, Brandon's father.
After sending the letter, the Blounts thought that the issue
had been resolved, but one year later, they received another call
from DOT officials, stating that on Sept. 8 the county would
remove the memorial. The county and the Blounts have since agreed
to talk and DOT officials agreed to leave the cross alone for
"Last year, because of the amount of fervor that came
forward, we just decided to let it fade, and that over time the
attachment to this memorial would fade. But that didn't
happen," said Linda Dougherty, assistant manager of the
Instead, she said, the memorial grew in size and steps have
been taken by the family and friends to make it a permanent
fixture on the county's property.
"It's not a hazard to traffic on the roadway or
pedestrians," Dougherty said. "But the point the
complainants are making is that it's not an authorized use of the
"They're saying, `County, you have a bigger obligation to
the people.' And we feel it's time for us to take some
steps," she added.
Dougherty said the county overlooks what they call "minor
memorials" - usually a simple cross made out of thin pieces
of wood and painted white. This includes most of the memorials
that are scattered throughout the Valley.
"Occasionally - and it's very rare - we have some
memorials that grow and become a more substantial memorial,"
Dougherty explained. "In these cases, we're trying to be
sensitive to people's need to grieve, but we also have a problem
with the county code, which authorizes very few things to exist
in the road right-of-way."
One of the solutions that Dougherty suggested to the Blount
family was to relocate the cross to private property somewhere
near the site of the crash. However, the family is doubtful it
can find an adequate place to put the memorial.
"The point of the memorial is that's where it
happened," said Amy Blount, Brandon's mother. "Maybe if
it's two feet back, but no, I don't agree with that."
Two feet behind Brandon's cross, however, is still part of the
The family describes this newest threat to Brandon's memorial
as "rubbing salt on an open wound," and one neighbor
asked the family, "What are we coming to when members of
society are so disrespectful?"
The memorial serves as a gathering place for Brandon's friends
and as a reminder to the family that he was well-loved. "I
look at the balloons and flowers and I see that our baby was
loved and cared for," Amy said.
"My sister [Talana] and I put rocks around the memorial
and my father maintains it constantly," said Tutti
Blount."Someone came and donated beauty bark and people
always honk and wave at us when we're there."
"Even though our son is gone, the cross keeps his memory
alive for us," Tony added.
Similar memorials also act as a sign for motorists to drive
safely said Carl Wilson, who lives down the road from Brandon's
cross. "The public should be more aware of the hazards of
the road, and this should do it," he commented. "I
admit that it's a distraction, but it's necessary."
Besides the five known complaints to the DOT, Brandon's
memorial has endured several physical attacks from unknown
persons. Several months after his death, the original cross was
burned, along with the trinkets and items that adorned the site.
Then, within the next six months, someone stole two more crosses
that were put up.
To combat the vandalism, the family installed a steel cross
with several hundred pounds of cement as a base. The cross has
not been damaged since then.
"I never thought in my life that people could do
something like that to a cross or memorial site. It's so
foreign," said Amy.
Until an agreement between the family and the DOT can be made,
the Blount family will continue to inform the community about the
situation; and they plan to hold a protest at the memorial site
"This time, we won't leave it alone until it's
resolved," Amy said.
"If we're defeated, it won't be because we didn't try
everything we could to stop it from happening," Tony added.