North Bend, Wash. - It took one careless driver a split second to bring to an end everything it took Dale Larson 79 years to build: meeting his wife Sharon all the way back in seventh grade, serving in the Navy, getting married, having daughters, then grandkids.
He and Sharon saw much of the world together: Egypt, Italy, Switzerland, the countries piled up. But they always returned home to North Bend. It was home. It was where his buddies were, the guys he'd meet at the famous Twede's Cafe for coffee, or the group who went by the name "Rusty Zippers" and had lunch at the golf club. Mr. Larson used his time getting to know his neighbors too, regardless of what generation they fell into.
"Mr. Larson was our grandfather, our uncle, our dad, all rolled into one," said neighbor Dawn Frearson, with tears in her eyes. It's hard for her to believe that someone they don't know could rob them of someone they love so dearly.
On September 13th, Mr. Larson was on I-90 in his "new toy," the red custom old truck that he had just shown off to his son-in-law the day before. "It made him feel like a kid again," Bryan Stokosa said of the hybrid custom antique Ford-Plymouth, "you could see him just perk up, you know, stand up straighter and the whole bit. It was fun." But Mr. Larson would die in his toy.
A driver hauling a boat trailer was also carrying a plastic cooler and did not secure it properly. The cooler came flying off the trailer. Mr. Larson swerved to avoid it and hit an SUV instead, then a median. The driver of the boat trailer kept going.
"It's so shocking," Sharon Larson said, "That's what everybody says-- so hard to believe." She doesn't know if the driver responsible kept going because he didn't see the accident -- or because he did. She wants him to take responsibility. Dale had been by her side for 59 years. Then suddenly, Friday, she returned from the hospital alone. "Of course, when I got home and got ready for bed, the first thing I had to do was take his pajamas out from under the pillow," she told KIRO 7, from the home where they'd raised their daughters. "It was hard."
It's especially hard for the family to accept because the accident was so avoidable. The cooler just needed to be secured properly. And the damage inflicted by unsecured loads was known long before their loss. In 2004, Maria Federici was driving along I-405 when furniture fell out of a U-Haul trailer and smashed through her windshield. She was severely injured and blinded. Two years later, "Maria's Law" was passed, making it a crime to improperly secure a load.
Mrs. Larson says the trooper on the case has told her they know who the driver is, but it's unclear whether he will be charged. The State Patrol would still like to hear from any witnesses to the accident.
In the meantime, Mrs. Larson says she takes it hour by hour, having to accept her new reality each day. "This morning I set my alarm for the first time, and I looked over to see if he was awake. But of course, he wasn't there."