WL teens worked at Marys Woods


School was out for a week. Snow was in the forecast.

A perfect excuse for a couple of snowboarders to hit the road for a few days, let off a little steam on the mountain and even visit family on the trip. But rather than long turns in deep powder and quality time with loved ones, two families are mourning the loss of their sons, and the West Linn High School community has been left without two popular students.

Daniel Sawyer, 18, and Thomas Earhart, 17, died Saturday when their sport utility vehicle crashed head-on with a truck loaded with steel about 15 miles north of Klamath Falls on Highway 97. The two good friends, both seniors in school, left in Sawyer's Toyota SUV on Saturday morning to visit his mother and grandmother in Davis Creek, Calif., a town just south of the Oregon border, and do some snowboarding in the southern Cascades.

It was a trip Sawyer and Earhart had made several times before.

Sawyer's father, Bill, talked to his son 30 minutes before the crash, concerned about the two driving in stormy weather.

'I'm always concerned, even when he leaves the house on the way to school,' Sawyer said. 'He was more concerned with his truck sucking down gas.'

It would be the last time he would talk to his son.

At about 4:20 p.m., Sawyer's truck collided with a Freightliner truck driven by 55-year-old Richard Burroughs of Springfield.

Oregon State Police said Burroughs was driving north on Highway 97 when the vehicle Sawyer was driving apparently veered into the southbound lane. Both vehicles slammed into each other, closing most of the highway for four hours in the aftermath of the collision.

In the days since, the impact of the teens' death has been felt in nearly ever corner of the West Linn community and in parts of Lake Oswego. The two worked together at the Mary's Woods Retirement Community in Lake Oswego. Earhart was a chef and server there. Sawyer was a server.

'This is a tight-knit community, and every person here feels the loss,' said Dick Ponting, a counselor at West Linn High School who was available at the school Monday and Tuesday for grief counseling. 'You don't have to know them well to feel deeply the pain and the loss and to feel for the families. This is the kind of tragedy where everybody pulls together. You can't not be affected by it.'

A memorial for the two students has been set for Monday or Tuesday afternoon at the high school. Judging by the outpouring of support from friends and community members, it will be standing room only.

'We've had tons of people come by,' said Gracie Earhart, Thomas' 19-year-old sister who graduated from West Linn High School last spring and now lives in Portland. 'We had a group of 40 students show up with flowers and cards. The response from the community has been awesome.'

Sawyer and Earhart began their friendship in middle school and played on the basketball team together. They've been close friends throughout high school. Their relationship was the catalyst for a large group of friends, Gracie said.

'Everybody was brought together by them,' Gracie said. 'Within the last year, they've been buddy, buddy. They've been really close.'

The two also shared a passion for the outdoors and adventure.

Earhart had taken up snowboarding last winter - for approximately five minutes. He broke his hand just minutes into his debut in the sport.

'He loved to snowboard,' Gracie said. 'Last season he said 'that was the best five minutes of my life,' until he broke his hand.'

He loved it so much, he had purchased a snowboard and was ready for a full season this time around, Gracie said. Most of all, she said, it is Earhart's gregarious personality that family and friends will remember the most. She said their entire family, which also included sister Amy, 29, and brothers Ian, 26, Tom, 18, and Alex, 15, are extremely close. Earhart's parents, Will and Grace, own Sourdough Willy's Bakery on Highway 43.

'He was a kid who just couldn't be hated,' Gracie said. 'He had that joking side to him. He couldn't have an enemy. He was too happy a kid, too much of a goofball to have anyone dislike him.'

Gracie said her brother was also known for his love of music, movies, video games and riding his bike around town.

'He was so desperate to get his license, and then when he got it he said he hated driving,' Gracie said. 'He would ride his bike everywhere. He was known for his bike.'

Earhart and Sawyer also had traveled to Davis Creek several times before to enjoy the outdoors, fishing and riding ATVs, Sawyer's father, Bill, said. Sawyer's mother, Lara Tierney, lives in Davis Creek.

Sawyer was a certified scuba diver and loved to be outside.

'He liked to visit there to go fishing, camping, that type of thing,' Bill said. 'He loved anything adventurous. He had that adventure spirit to him.'

Bill said his son was considering joining the Coast Guard after graduation because he wanted to travel. Bill said Sawyer was also extremely close with his sisters, Vanessa Sawyer and Timberlun Ginter.

'He just has a good, kind heart,' Bill said.

He said his initial reasons for moving to West Linn from Alturas, Calif., where Daniel was born, was for its tight-knit community. And that has been reaffirmed in the aftermath of the tragedy.

'I'd like to thank the West Linn community,' Bill said. 'Everyone has shown support in any way they can. And just hug your kids.'

A public graveside service will be held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday for Sawyer at the Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery in Portland. Services for Earhart have yet to be finalized.

Friends of Earhart and Sawyer and staff at West Linn High School have established a contribution fund for the families. Donations in either of the boys' names are being accepted at any Bank of America location or at the school.

'These things are never easy to go through,' said Curt Scholl, assistant principal in charge of student services at West Linn High School. 'I can say from the response, it truly is a time when you're thankful to be in a community like West Linn. These are times when you see how strong your community is.'