Legacy of a tragedy: Crash victim teaches, even in death

Memorial sign serves as warning against drunken driving

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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WOODLAND — Roy Thorp was nicknamed "Professor" because he loved to help, tell stories and teach.

And although his smashed-up Subaru and a new memorial road sign are reminders of his tragic death, they also carry on his legacy of teaching, his loved ones say.

The 76-year-old Vancouver man was memorialized with the sign unveiled Saturday as family and friends gathered alongside Northwest Hayes Road on the three-year anniversary of the drunken-driving crash that killed him.

"I hope it helps somebody," said Thorp's widow, Marlys Thorp, 74. "If we just stop one person from drinking and driving, we've accomplished something."

It's not too often that memorial signs are erected; there are only a handful around the county, and most are placed along highways. Thorp's family wanted to make something good out of a bad ending and remind others about the consequences of drunken driving.

"God bless, Marlys," said Connie Jones, 75, who was the passenger in Thorp's car the evening of the crash. She still has scars on her arm and just recently stopped using a cane after her intensive recovery.

On Aug. 16, 2011, Thorp was driving in his Subaru Impreza to a board meeting at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill with Jones. They were volunteers on the board, and Thorp was treasurer.

Woodland resident Tyler Peabody was going the other way on Hayes Road in a Ford Mustang convertible when, while in a no-passing zone, he passed a truck pulling a boat trailer around a large, sweeping corner. He was speeding at the time. The 20-year-old lost control of the Mustang as he tried to get back into his lane and struck Thorp's eastbound Subaru, which careened into a dirt embankment.

Thorp was killed on impact. Jones was critically injured, and Peabody's passenger, Patrick Wisniewski, 23, of Woodland, also was seriously injured.

Lead traffic detective Jim Payne determined that Peabody had spent the day along the Lewis River, swimming and drinking with friends. At the time, he was a couple days shy of his 21st birthday. A toxicology test showed that Peabody was under the influence of alcohol, had been smoking marijuana and had also ingested cocaine, according to Payne.

"This is and always will be a 'bad' mistake," Thorp's family wrote in the victim impact statement during Peabody's trial. "Forgiveness is a strong move to make and we are a strong family. With that said, we will forgive but will never forget."

Peabody served prison time for vehicular homicide and was recently released.

The Thorp family donated the crumpled Subaru to the sheriff's office, which uses it in anti-drunken-driving presentations around the county, mostly at high schools.

Thorp's granddaughter, Brenda Liebman, 34, said the family just wanted people to learn from what happened. They raised $750 for the memorial sign.

Even though these signs often become part of the passing scenery, remembering a loved ones means a lot to their families, said Marion Swendson, manger of the Clark County Target Zero Traffic Safety Task Force.