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Battle Wages over memorial cross

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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

accident.

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

memorial.

"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

now.

"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

Roads Division.

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

right-of-way.

"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

county's right-of-way.

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 Saturday.

"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.

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