A Cross For Joe: Family able to place memorial on W. Richland road after land dispute

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 18, 2013 

Joe Vance was a big guy. Like Zeus, his daughter-in-law said. Or Santa Claus.

He had pure white hair, a white beard and piercing blue eyes.

He was passionate about Harleys, had a soft spot for animals and loved his family.

They loved him too. A lot. That's clear, even two years after his death.

Vance died Feb. 12, 2011, after a head-on wreck on Kennedy Road in West Richland.

A driver slammed into the 52-year-old Benton City man, who was riding a motorcycle. His wife, Lorri, was on her own bike alongside him and suffered a broken leg, among other injuries.

As the two-year anniversary of Vance's death approached last week, his family planned to honor him by placing a wooden cross near the site of the wreck. But a dispute unfolded about exactly where it could go.

It was a disappointing turn of events, the family said. The property owner seems to feel the same way.

Here's what the Vance family said happened: They placed the cross along the road last weekend, in the same spot where they put up a temporary flower memorial last year. They got permission for the flowers from the man they thought owned the land, and reached out to the city this year to get similar paperwork for the cross.

They said they believed they were squared away.

But it turns out the land actually is owned by someone else.

Tanya Boyd, the daughter of the woman who owns it, said the wooden memorial is a daily reminder of the tragedy that happened in front of their home, and it showed up one day without her mom's permission.

The Vance family said it was tossed aside without theirs. Diane Vance, Joe's daughter-in-law, said she drove by Monday and saw a man pull up the cross and throw it into the weeds -- and that's how they learned there was a problem.

Boyd said her husband removed the cross, but he isn't a disrespectful person.

Jamie Vance, Joe's daughter, said, "It was gone about the wrong way."

Boyd said her family also feels the Vances could have handled the situation better, "with more respect for us." Her family ended up calling police a couple of times during the week because emotions were running high, she said.

She said her family sympathizes with the Vances and holds no hard feelings.

The cross now stands several feet back from the crash site, on the grassy lawn of another resident -- the one who gave permission for the flower memorial.

The Vance family said they're happy with the new spot. The cross is about 3 feet high, made of sturdy wood and bears an inscription with Vance's name and the words "Ride forever."

Vance and his wife were married 32 years. Lorri Vance said the past two years without her husband have been hard.

"Very, very hard," she said. "It's not something that you plan on -- being alone."

The driver who struck him was charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, but the charges later were dropped. There hasn't been much closure, Lorri Vance said.

She and other relatives visited Vance's cross Friday, bringing a wreath with bright red flowers.

They talked about Joe -- about his outgoing nature, his habit of taking in strays, his jokes.

They talked about his Santa beard and his bright blue eyes.

They hope the cross will stand as a reminder to drivers to pay attention on the road, they said. And also of the husband and father they lost.

"We're just trying to do something for him, to remember him," Lorri Vance said. "So people just don't forget."

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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