Family mourns its Superman

CAMANO ISLAND – A weekend beach party turned tragic when a 15-year-old Camano Island boy lost his grip on a rope swing and died after falling 60 feet from a bluff to the beach below.

For the loved ones Kevin Houston left behind, one image his finger drew lingers in the dust on his mother’s unwashed car:

Kevin Nortz / The Herald

“He was just a great kid,” said Mark Klingensmith as he and his wife, Dorothy Klingensmith, visited a memorial for Kevin Houston at Stanwood High School on Monday afternoon. “He was fearless.” The Klingensmiths are family friends of the Houstons.

Superman’s logo, a bold “S” inside a five-sided diamond, is still on the front of mother Lynn Houston’s car.

Below that, her son’s finger had traced “Kev-o.”

“She hasn’t washed it,” Kevin’s father, Scott, said Monday.

“Everybody knew him as Superman,” said his brother, Sam, 19.

Kevin Houston’s fall occurred at 9:45 p.m. Friday about a quarter-mile south of High Road on the island’s northwest end, Island County Coroner Robert Bishop said. The tide was out, so he landed on the beach. He died of injuries suffered in the fall, Bishop added.

Witnesses told police the teen-agers, including Kevin, had been drinking beer, said Jan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Kevin Houston (right) stands with his parents, Lynn and Scott Houston, during a trip to Valdez, Alaska, in 2004.

His family described Kevin as an outgoing, athletic outdoorsman who loved to make people laugh. He also loved snowboarding and music.

Somehow, Superman seemed to fit his persona, his father said. His wrestling team adopted the logo one year.

“You would always see him in a Superman shirt,” Scott Houston said. That spirit included a boisterous, daredevil side, but not in a dangerous way, he added.

Scott Houston arrived at the beach while medics were still trying to revive his son. Based on the training he is taking to be a firefighter, his heart sank.

“I pretty much knew that he wasn’t going to make it,” the father said. “That’s all I see in my mind over and over and over again.”

Kevin had mentioned the rope swing before, but his father had always envisioned something like their family outings to Baker Lake’s 10-foot drop into deep water.

“He never mentioned the fact that this rope swing was 100 feet in the air,” Scott Houston said.

Bishop said the swing was tied to a madrona tree about 125 feet up a bluff overlooking the beach. He estimated Kevin fell 60 feet, based on how far below the tree the rope was hanging.

Bishop said the swing did not appear to be used to launch people into the water, even at high tide.

Scott and Lynn Houston said they had not been worried about the party because they knew and trusted his friends, and Kevin was always reliable about checking in.

“I always told him – I was a Scout master – if they ever found themselves in a situation where they were around people who were drinking, or if he was drinking, he could always give me a call,” Scott Houston said.

Scouting was an early bond for the father and son. Kevin joined his father in a variety of outdoor pursuits as early as 5 years old.

As a 10-year-old, Kevin backpacked across Olympic National Park with his dad. They also went golfing and hunting together.

Last year, Kevin joined his parents for a trip to Alaska, where he climbed a glacier, rappelled into a crevasse and did some whitewater rafting, all in one day.

“I know he really loved doing that glacier thing,” Scott Houston said.

Kevin was a sophomore at Stanwood-Camano High School. Classes are not in session because of the holiday break, but many friends left memorial notes and pictures at the base of the high school’s flagpole.

The family was grateful for the support of hundreds of friends who showed up at a memorial ceremony over the weekend, Scott Houston said. Some of his closest friends, including brother Sam, went to the beach Saturday to pay their respects.

They set up a cross.

And they took down the rope swing.

“He was a very loving brother,” Sam Houston said. “We’re all going to miss him.”

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