U.S. 2 issue ‘is personal,’ lawmakers say

MONROE — Enough is enough, say two state lawmakers concerned about the mounting death toll from accidents along U.S. 2.

The death of Thomas Turner, 17, in a crash Friday has state Reps. Dan Kristiansen and Kirk Pearson vowing they will do everything they can in the next Legislative session to fix the highway, which needs up to $1.84 billion in improvements.

“My main goal is to wake up people in the rest of Washington,” Kristiansen, a Snohomish Republican, said. “The number (of deaths) is racking up year after year, month after month.”

About 30 people on Monday gathered at Turner’s home north of Monroe to show love and support for his mother, Laurie Turner. People from a local church have been dropping by and delivering food for the family as well.

The amount of support is a testament to her son’s personality, Laurie Turner said.

“His passion in life was making sure everyone was well and happy,” she said. “He was my strength. I hope I was his.”

Turner was killed Friday in a head-on collision on a narrow, winding stretch of U.S. 2 about a mile east of Gold Bar. The Monroe High School junior became the 47th person killed in a U.S. 2 crash between Snohomish and Stevens Pass since 1999. He was also the 16th person to die in a crossover crash during that time.

The community is feeling the loss of the young man in the midst of the holiday season, Kristiansen said.

“It is personal,” he said. “You’ve got people crying talking on the phone.”

Fixing U.S. 2 is his top legislative issue, Kristiansen said. He’s already drafted several bills to introduce in the upcoming legislative session, but he offered few details.

“Collectively, those bills will secure a few hundred million dollars,” he said.

A study, released by the state in November, determined that overall improvements of U.S. 2 would cost up to $1.84 billion and take more than 20 years to complete.

The amount of work to be done shows how long the state has neglected the highway, Kristiansen said. Since 1993, the state has invested just $36 million improving the highway between Snohomish and Skykomish.

The state is addicted to process, he said. The safety study itself cost $1.3 million and took 18 months. Of the 56 projects recommended by the study, only one has received funding.

“This state studies to death,” Kristiansen said. “We know what the problem is. Now let’s start fixing the problem.”

Pearson, a Monroe Republican, said he will try to make state leaders pay attention to U.S. 2, a major east-west connector across the Cascade Mountains.

“This is important to everybody,” Pearson said. “Nobody wants to see a 17-year-old die. This is every parent’s nightmare. I have a 17-year-old son.”

That Gov. Chris Gregoire toured the highway and saw its problems in September could make a difference to win more money for U.S. 2, Pearson said.

He also hopes to convince Paula Hammond, the state’s new Transportation Secretary, of the importance of making improvements to U.S. 2 now.

The highway is as important and critical as replacing aged Steel Electric ferries and the malfunctioning cable barrier along I-5 near Marysville, Kristiansen and Pearson said.

“The highway hasn’t really changed since I started driving,” said Pearson, 49.

At a local coffee shop on Monday, Pearson said the conversation focused on Turner’s death, and concern for two other teens who were seriously injured in the crash.

“Each death hurts in the valley. People are well connected,” he said.

Turner and his friends Loren Lloyd and Shannon Fretz, also 17 of Snohomish, were on the way home after spending time at Stevens Pass on Friday. A Jeep Cherokee, driven by Lloyd, crossed the centerline and hit a full-size pickup truck. Turner died instantly. Lloyd, a former Monroe high school student, and Fretz, an honor student at the high school, were seriously injured. They remained under treatment Monday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

A Mount Vernon couple in the truck also were hurt, but they were released from a hospital Saturday.

About 30 students on Monday gathered at Monroe High School to mourn Turner and to pray for the two other teens.

“Some kids are still out of town,” said Rosemary O’Neil, the school’s spokeswoman. “They don’t know about it.”

Friends continued to come in and out of Turner’s home on Monday. Laurie Turner said that her son was a mature young man who loved history, cooking and his red 1981 Chevrolet Camaro.

Her son looked out for others, she said. He even found a boyfriend for his mother. He found joy in helping friends; his older sister, Kelsey; and his younger brother, Taylor, his mother said.

“He wasn’t happy unless they were happy,” she said. “He was a peacemaker. He wanted to make everyone happy.”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

Memorial service

A memorial service for Thomas Turner, a U.S. 2 crash victim, is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Cascade Community Church, 14377 Fryelands Blvd. in Monroe.

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