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National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims aims to provide solace, support services

The parents of Andrew Harig, who was killed by an allegedly intoxicated driver near Vancouver Mall in August, said Monday at an annual remembrance for homicide victims that the event made them feel as if their son was still alive.

“It helps with the pain,” said mother Savdey Harig.

Still, Tom Harig said he didn’t know what to expect from the event, and it brought back a lot of negative memories surrounding his son’s death.

“It hurts me to hear my son’s name” among the 80 local victims listed in a pamphlet for the annual National Day of Remembrance for Homicide Victims ceremony, Tom Harig said. “No one’s name should be on that list.”

About 100 people attended the annual gathering, held every September at the Clark County Public Service Center in connection with the national day of recognition. It’s held to honor the homicide victims and their loved ones and to support crime victims’ rights and services.

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik was the first speaker, telling the attendants that it was an important day for his office and law enforcement, noting that Sheriff Chuck Atkins and local police chiefs — from Vancouver, Battle Ground and La Center, among others — were in the crowd.

“We care so deeply for you, and to seek justice for you,” Golik said.

This year’s keynote speaker, Senior Deputy Prosecutor James Smith, who has overseen numerous homicide and violent crimes cases, said he feels honored to seek justice for the families of victims and feels a heavy burden in doing so, given unanswered questions often remain after defendants are convicted and sentenced.

“It’s never perfect. A person’s life can never be measured by the years of a (defendant’s) sentence,” Smith told the crowd.

The pamphlet handed out at the ceremony lists eight homicides in the county so far this year. Last year, law enforcement here investigated 10 homicides. In 2016, 16 homicides were investigated — a five-year high.

The pamphlet lists victims going back 10 years, and other names are retained for families who request it.

Twenty-year-old Andrew Harig died Aug. 2. Regina Mae Milam, 60, of Battle Ground, was under the influence of a drug when she hit and killed Harig, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Vancouver police and paramedics responded shortly before 2 p.m. Aug. 2 for a crash involving a motorcycle at the intersection of Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard and Vancouver Mall Drive. Harig was declared dead at the scene. A witness told investigators she was following a black Toyota Camry east on Fourth Plain Boulevard and noticed it was swerving and having difficulty maintaining its lane. The witness said the traffic signals for eastbound traffic were red and traffic was stopped, but the Toyota did not slow down and crashed directly into the back of a stopped motorcycle, court records say.

Andrew Harig’s parents said they are continuing to deal with their son’s death. They thanked his friends for setting up a memorial at the crash site and for keeping his memory alive.

Andrew held a 4.0 grade point average throughout grade school and had been attending Washington State University. He was “caring, loyal, hardworking and always sacrificed for others,” his parents said.

It was the first time attending the event for family members of victims killed last year, too.

The mother and sister of Elvis Keplinger, killed Nov. 22 by another allegedly intoxicated driver, said they felt honored to be there and to remember their son and brother.

“We just lost Elvis last year, so I was very eager to participate. It makes me feel as if his passing is in someway remembered and his life is valued,” mother Socorro Keplinger said.

That crash occurred at about 10:45 p.m. in the 13100 block of Northeast 28th Street. Witnesses told investigators that a man was jumping in and out of traffic when he was struck by a vehicle driving west on the street. The driver, Ileta Simonov, provided officers a preliminary breath test that found her blood-alcohol level was 0.142 less than a half-hour after the crash, according to court records.

Keplinger’s sister, Brenda Bacon, said her brother was struggling with substance abuse. She now works at Lifeline Connections, a local substance use and mental health treatment provider, and the clients’ troubles remind her of her brother.

“People like him are often forgotten quickly, but I loved this (remembrance). I’m proud to stand for him,” Bacon said.

The criminal cases against Milam and Simonov continue to move through Clark County Superior Court.


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