Friends mourn Kennewick crash victim

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldApril 9, 2014 

The sun reflected off a laptop Xaysy Bounxou used to show pictures of his girlfriend, Nina Howard, as he knelt down just yards from where she was hit by a car and killed.

The pictures showed Howard smiling at Clover Island, walking along the Columbia River and posing near the nursing home where she once worked.

Bounxou shared memories of Howard on Wednesday at the LAO Buddhist Temple where the couple first met. He pointed to the sky frequently to signify she is in a better place.

"She was a good a person. She helped a lot of people," Bounxou said. "I don't think she goes away for me. She goes with me everywhere I go. I feel like she is still alive."

Howard, 52, was crossing West 27th Avenue on Tuesday -- apparently to go to the temple -- when she was struck by a 1966 Chevy Nova driven by Michael S. Johnson, police said.

Witnesses say Johnson, 46, of Kennewick, may have been street-racing his teenage son at the time of the collision.

Howard was pronounced dead at the scene and Johnson is held at the Benton County jail on suspicion of vehicular homicide.

Neighbors, friends and family say Howard was an outgoing woman who loved to garden and ride around Kennewick on her bicycle.

Howard's son, Andy, told the Herald his mom had recently celebrated her birthday.

"She was a caring person. She cared about everyone around her," he said. "She was always trying to do things for other people. I am just kind of in shock that this happened."

Howard lived at Keewaydin Plaza in Kennewick and was known around the complex for her vibrant personality, neighbors said. She enjoyed cooking and constantly talked about her two sons.

Residents at the complex found out about Howard's death from a note that was left on a message board in the lobby, they said.

"It was a total shock for me," resident Debbie Hathaway said. "I came down in the morning and said 'whoa,' I did not expect to see that."

Gary Dannells has known Howard for years and talked to her hours before she was killed, he said.

"I told her to have a good day," he said. "She was very friendly and outgoing. She marched to her own tune."

Howard was born in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and lived in the Tri-Cities for at least 25 years. She was a Buddhist and a member of the temple in Kennewick.

The day she died, Howard cooked lunch for the monks at the temple, like she often did, and had plans to go there to pray later in the day, Bounxou said. She visited the temple on a daily basis, helping to pick weeds around the property and pray.

Howard helped a lot of people in the Buddhist community and will be missed, monks said. Between 300 to 400 people worship at the temples in Richland and Kennewick.

Bounxou said Howard was a devout Buddhist who was at peace with the fact that she would die one day.

"In my mind I know she had religion on her heart," said Bounxou, who is also from Laos. "She loved her religion. All the time she would tell me, some day I need to go."

A service for Howard is scheduled for Thursday night at the LOA Buddhist Temple at 3002 W. 27th Ave.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com: Twitter; @Ty_richardson

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