Alan Belmont recalls girlfriend, Rebecca Bray, who died after being hit in downtown Portland

Alan Belmont is reminded of the early morning tragedy every time he looks at his cell CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Alan Belmont, 20, and Rebecca Bray, 20, both of Gresham, are all smiles in this photo. Bray was killed Sunday, Jan. 20, when struck by a pickup driven by an alleged drunken driver in Portland's Old Town area.

“Here’s the texts she sent me,” he says before pulling out his iPhone and reliving the final conversation he had with Rebecca Bray, his girlfriend of almost a year, who was hit and killed by a car — driven by a suspected drunken driver — on Saturday, Jan. 19, in downtown Portland.

Belmont, 20, of Gresham, reads aloud a series of text messages sent between the young couple, hearts aching at the thought of being apart.

Bray sent updates about the fun she was having in Old Town helping her childhood friend, Brandi Butner, celebrate her 21st birthday. With Belmont many miles away in Corvallis, she tried to include him in their night.

But Belmont told his girlfriend to go enjoy the evening.

“I don’t want to bother you, baby,” Belmont wrote. “Have fun.”

Soon, the text messages stop, and as Belmont reads the last one, tears come without warning.

He’s taken back to the news he received Sunday morning, Jan. 20, the date of their 11-month anniversary.

An alleged drunken driver ran a red light and collided with a taxi at the intersection of Northwest Fifth Avenue and Everett Street around 2:30 a.m. The impact sent the driver’s pickup onto the sidewalk, where Bray, 20, and Butner were standing.

Only Butner survived.

The Fairview woman was hospitalized and upgraded from serious to fair condition on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Police say the truck’s driver — Brent Warstler, 42, of Cornelius — had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the state’s legal limit of .08 percent.

“It feels like my heart’s in my stomach,” Belmont says. “It’s been so hard to accept that she’s gone.”

Belmont fights each moment against the pain of his loss, but he finds strength in his memories: Bray’s confidence, independence, love of boxing, and the crush he had on her since middle school.

A first kiss

Sitting in Ms. Lucy’s class at Reynolds Middle School, Bray and Butner — who even back then were best friends — played “truth or dare” with Belmont and another boy.

When it was Belmont’s turn, he bravely chose dare and was told to kiss Bray, a brown-haired, brown-eyed sixth-grader.

The pretty, popular, outgoing girl always caught Belmont’s eye.

“I had a crush on her,” he says. “She was the most gorgeous girl in school. I was in love with her.”

So he boldly leaned in for a kiss.

“After that, we hung out all the time,” Belmont says.

The two quickly became close, but other than that truth-or-dare kiss, Belmont never broke through the “friend zone.”

Bray was focused on getting straight As, singing in the school choir and developing a work ethic she’d carry throughout her life.

“She had a really, really nice voice, and she loved to sing,” Belmont says.

It became a ritual for Bray to sing for her family on holidays. Shari Bray, who raised her two daughters — Rebecca and Sarah, 22 — as a single mom, would sit and listen, always overwhelmed by the beauty of her daughter’s voice.

Shari supported the family as a hairdresser, while Rebecca helped out, sweeping up clippings, taking out the trash and singing all the while.

“Her mom taught her independence and not to rely on anyone else,” says Kayla Londos, 22, Bray’s close friend.

Belmont lost touch with Bray when she moved to Florida with her mother and sister after her freshman year at Reynolds High School. But when Bray returned to Reynolds before her senior year, the two rekindled their friendship without missing a beat.

After graduating from Reynolds High School in 2009, Bray enrolled in Mt. Hood Community College’s hospitality program to pursue her dream of becoming a hotel manager.

She wanted a job that allowed her to travel the world, and in school she worked tirelessly to make that happen.

“Just finally saw my grades,” Bray wrote on Facebook on Dec. 13, 2010. “Yay for me! This 4.0 student is going to bed. Good night everyone!!!”

Woven into the hours of studying were several part-time jobs.

She worked at Quiznos in 2010, but after seeing an opening at Banana Republic, she decided to apply. Londos, the store’s manager, conducted the job interview. It was the first time they met, and as Bray spoke of juggling school and work, Londos instantly sensed this girl’s determination.

“She’s always been used to working a lot,” Londos says. “She’s never had anything handed to her.”

Londos hired Bray and the two quickly became close.

Meanwhile, Belmont became Bray’s inseparable best friend. Their days were spent doing homework, socializing with friends, watching movies — usually scary ones, Bray’s favorite.

“She was happy, she was outgoing,” he says. “I don’t think I ever saw her act (mean) or be rude to anyone.

“She did like to fight, though.”

As a young girl, Bray developed a passion for boxing, her grandfather’s favorite sport. He spent hours honing her skills and instilling his characteristic toughness. She developed a mean one-two punch and learned to be strong mentally, as well as physically.

By the time she reached college, friends knew not to mess with her.

“If you ask people, she was probably one of the toughest girls,” Belmont says. “Everyone was scared of her. People would joke around, ‘Alan, don’t piss off Becky. She’s going to put you in your place.’ ”

But her tough exterior always melted away around Belmont.

And in February of last year, after years of friendship, they became a couple.

They moved into Belmont’s parents’ house late last year, taking the first step toward making a life together. Belmont worked part time as a construction worker, while Bray started working at the front desk of a Portland Red Lion.

Living in his parents’ garage, Bray tried to pay her way. Much of her money went toward utilities, her cell phone bill, car insurance and other expenses.

“She’s really independent,” Londos says. “She’s more mature than me, and I’m two years older than her.”

It wasn’t long before Belmont and Bray began to save money to get a place of their own.

A day apart

Saturday, Jan. 19, was one of those rare days when Belmont and Bray weren’t together.

Bray had errands to run and shopping to do as she prepared to celebrate Butner’s 21st birthday. But Sunday would mark the couple’s 11-month anniversary, so they agreed to meet that night for a romantic dinner.

Bray and Butner spent Saturday night and the early morning hours of Sunday bar-hopping in downtown Portland. Not yet of legal drinking age, Bray used her older sister’s identification to get inside.

Shortly after the nightclubs closed, Bray and Butner stood on a street corner waiting for their designated driver to arrive.

Instead, a suspected drunken driver got there first.

“It’s still so hard to accept it,” Belmont says with tears in his eyes, a lump in his throat and a hole in his heart. “I’ve just been staring at my phone, just waiting for a call or text from her. I just can’t accept it.”

With each passing day, reality sinks in.

Belmont is left with the memories, the photos and the texts.

He looks at his phone, scrolling through his messages until he reaches the end.

Stomach in knots, he takes a deep breath and reads the last text she sent.

“I wish you were here baby.”

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