DEMING - Frank's orange motorcycle didn't have a scratch on it.
Decades of riding motorcycles, and not one ticket. As a package courier for doctors' offices, he needed the clean record. He got an orange Honda VTX 1300 because the darker-colored bikes sometimes get lost in the rearview mirrors of other drivers.
The 65-year-old handyman from Maple Falls was driving safely the day he died. That's what makes it so hard for Barbara Clark, his widow, to understand.
"Frank was not a crotch rocket rider, some daredevil out there taking chances," she said.
Barbara is convinced the intersection, at Mount Baker Highway and Marshall Hill Road, was at fault. Now she's asking the state Department of Transportation to put in a left-turn lane or a lower speed limit, anything to prevent another crash like the one that killed her husband.
A driver who tailed Frank for a few miles on Mount Baker Highway on Sept. 20 told troopers the westbound motorcyclist wasn't swerving, wasn't speeding and didn't seem impaired in any way. Investigators still don't know why he didn't slow down in time for the stopped box truck in front of him, where Marshall Hill turns into Deming Road. The truck driver, a 34-year-old Mount Vernon man, was waiting for another car to turn left. Clark hit the back corner of the truck and died at the scene.
On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Barbara knocked on doors along Hollingsworth Road and Marshall Hill, asking if someone would let her set up a permanent roadside memorial. She left her number at the empty houses and got back into her Ford pickup. She waited to turn down the road to get gas. A tannish SUV zipped by. She heard the screeching of brakes, then the sound of crunching metal and shattering glass.
It was a crash eerily like the one that killed Frank: The driver of a westbound car was turning left, but the SUV behind it didn't stop in time, swerved toward the shoulder and clipped the back corner of the car, sending it spinning into the other lane. An oncoming car took some damage, too. This time, nobody was hurt.
"It was uncanny," Barbara said. "It was like watching Frank's accident in slow motion."
She took it as a sign that something needs to change.
"The timing meant that I was supposed to be there," she said. "If something good can come out of this tragedy, then that would be good."
Sometimes, she added in a hushed tone, it takes a death. Kourtney Cadle, a 17-year-old Mount Baker High School volleyball player, was killed in a crash a mile down the highway in 2010. Cadle was waiting to turn left toward the school when she was struck from behind, pushing her car into an oncoming semi. Just months later, work crews were restriping the asphalt with a new turn lane near Mitchell Road. They added rumble strips and lengthened a 45-mph, reduced-speed zone.
The crash history at the Marshall Hill intersection, however, hasn't made it a priority for highway planners. Records compiled by the state Department of Transportation show only three crashes reported between 2007 and 2011, well below the average for state highways, said department spokesman Dustin Terpening.
No plans are in the works to add a turn lane. But if people reported it as a trouble spot, Terpening added, planners could explore ways to fix any problems.
Alyssa Henderson, who has lived near the bottom of the hill for two years, said department statistics must only count crashes with serious injuries.
"That's not true," she said of the department's figures. "Crashes happen all the time at the end of this road. Even if they're minor, they still count."
The figure Terpening provided only counts crashes within the intersection, a handful of yards long. He said it accounts for reports from the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office and the Washington State Patrol.
September has produced a bumper crop of collisions. By the tally of neighbors in the area, there were at least four crashes this month right at the intersection.
Henderson often sees cars flying up and down Marshall Hill - a gravel road until recently - at high speeds. Teens turning left onto Deming Road, for a shortcut to the high school parking lot, also have posed a problem.
"It's horrible that somebody needs to die for them to something about it," Henderson said. "And they still haven't done anything about it."
Matt Waldman, a roofer working a job on Marshall Hill for about a month, said he has witnessed two crashes in the past few weeks. On Sept. 6, he heard the bang of a head-on collision between a car and a truck. He raced down the street and saw the mangled front end of a purple Honda beside an upended pickup. The driver of the truck, who lives up the hill, was gushing blood from his brow after hitting his face against the steering wheel, but seemed more worried about getting the truck out of the road and moving on with his day, Waldman said.
"People just keep rolling into Deming at highway speeds," he said. "Think how fast a Honda Civic has to be going to flip a Chevy pickup on its ear."
From a rooftop he was working on, Waldman witnessed the crash last week that killed Frank.
The loss has left Barbara in an emotional fog. She's coping by keeping busy. Along with her campaign to fix the intersection, she's telling everyone she can to sign up to be a bone and tissue donor. When he died, Frank helped more than 50 patients in need, she said.
"I used to always give him all these honey-do lists," she said. "Now he's giving me a honey-do list."
A public celebration of life and potluck for Frank L. Clark Jr. is scheduled for noon Nov. 24, his birthday, at the Boy Scout hall at Camp Black Mountain. In the meantime, Barbara encouraged bikers going by the memorial to give Frank a motorcycle wave.
Reach CALEB HUTTON at email@example.com or call 715-2276.