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A Fond Farewell : Friends, family build an impromptu memorial in tribute to a Hacienda Heights youth who they said was the 'happiest person on earth.'

October 04, 1987

"It's just a way to say goodby," Mary Hatch, 19, said of a poem she had placed at an unusual memorial on Colima Road east of Punta del Este in Hacienda Heights.

Next to the poem lay more than two dozen flower arrangements, other poems, cards, a surfboard and a mortarboard from the 1986 class of Wilson High School.

"We're trying to remember and show how much we love him, show how terrible it is to lose someone so young in life," Ken Hothouser said of the memorial to 18-year-old Jeff Michael Graham.

Graham was killed Sept. 24 when a car in which he was riding jumped the center divider on Colima Road and hit two oncoming cars, according to Officer Chuck Geletko of the California Highway Patrol.

Graham died at the scene. Three of his friends suffered serious injuries and were at Queen of the Valley Hospital in West Covina. Some passengers in the other cars were also injured, but police will not release details until an investigation is completed.

The day after the accident, Graham's two brothers, John and Greg, and his best friend started the memorial, contributing a cross, some carnations and rocks.

Over the next several days, more and more items appeared by the road.

Kathy Bennick, a friend from high school whose sister was killed in a car accident three years ago, visited the memorial Wednesday morning to place a bouquet of roses there

"He was the happiest person on earth, always had a smile on his face," she said. "It is so sad, but this guy, he was really loved."

A steady stream of friends and neighbors visited the memorial or slowed their cars, some honking as they passed.

Broken glass was still scattered around the memorial on Wednesday, and police markings on the road mapped out the accident.

Fighting back tears, John Graham, 25, said the memorial was a tribute of love to his brother, who embraced life with zeal. "I feel sorry for the people who didn't know Jeff," he said. "There was never a dull moment with him. He was bigger than life."

The Hacienda Heights youth was a surfer who loved his early-model Ford Mustang and always wore Ray-Ban sunglasses. A similar pair of sunglasses and a picture of a Mustang were placed at the memorial.

Graham, who lived at home and is survived by his parents, brothers and a sister, had recently entered Mt. San Antonio College and was interested in studying commercial art.

Friends repeatedly spoke of Graham's outgoing personality and positive attitude. His mother, Dorothy, said she was amazed at the number of people who have contacted her to express their sympathy and love for Jeff.

"We knew he was great and uplifting, but I didn't realize so many people felt that way," she said.

The two brothers and Graham's best friend, Brock Hall, dismantled the memorial Wednesday because they heard that it might be have to be moved. They hope to have a permanent brass plaque placed at the site.

Services for Graham were held Monday, and the family planned to scatter his ashes at sea this weekend.

"He had always said he wanted to be cremated and come back as a dolphin," his mother said.

One of the notes left at the memorial referred to Graham's love of dolphins. "I'm always looking for dolphins in the ocean. I'm always looking for dolphins in the ocean." It was signed, "Your friend, Brian Kiblinger."

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