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A tree grows for Pansy

Now when Cheryl Kay makes a daily trip between Anacortes and Oak Harbor, she won’t dwell on the terrible accident that killed her mother on Highway 20 near Monkey Hill Road.

“Now when I drive by, I’ll remember her life,” she said.

Kay and her family members took advantage of a little-known Department of Transportation program to memorialize the site of an accident that claimed the life of 73-year-old Oak Harbor resident Pansy McClung on Dec. 2, 2003.

Family members, state troopers and Mark Voth of the Department of Transportation gathered on the side of the road Wednesday afternoon to plant a serviceberry tree and some pansies in memory of McClung.

The family had placed a star marker at the crash site, but it had to removed after a year because of state law. Voth said the DOT wants to prevent a proliferation of roadside markers because they can be a distraction and lead to more accidents.

But under the state’s fatality marker program, Voth said the family of someone killed in an accident can replace the marker with a tree or shrub, which is less likely to divert attention from the road.

Yet not many people seem to know about the program. Voth said he knows of less than a dozen such roadside memorials planted in the last five years from Seattle to the Canadian border.

Kay said she found out about the program from a friend who just happened to know about it. She contacted Voth, who was extremely helpful.

Pansy died at the scene of the accident after a 19-year-old Oak Harbor man fell asleep, drifted over the centerline and struck her car head-on. She was driving her 10-year-old grandson, Andrew, to school in Anacortes when the accident occurred.

The Oak Harbor man suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Andrew only suffered minor injuries, but was traumatized by the accident. Kay, his mother, said he couldn’t handle coming to the roadside memorial service.

“Driving by the accident site everyday, that’s really hard,” Kay said.

But now, with a flowering tree marking the spot, Kay hopes it will remind those who knew her mother of Pansy’s life. “This will be something peaceful to drive by,” she said. Serviceberry trees are known for their showy white flowers.

Kay will remember, with humor, that Pansy was an avid Elvis fan and owned everything Elvis-related. She loved football, especially the Seahawks. Her favorite hobby was playing bingo. But most of all, she loved spending time with her grandchildren.

“She cared about all her grandkids. More than me, really,” her husband, Wallace McClung, said with a laugh. He helped dig the hole for the memorial tree.

“She was a good woman, though. The trouble is, I ain’t got nobody around the house to pick on me anymore.”

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