ELKTON — James Howe stood on a grassy patch at the corner of Delaware Avenue and U.S. Route 40 (East Pulaski Highway) on Saturday night and, with tears in his eyes, he spoke in a trembling voice about the uncertainty of life — and about how every moment with friends and loved ones should be cherished.
“You cannot take the time you have with people for granted,” James, 24, of Elkton, emphasized haltingly. “Always show the people in your life that you love them, because they could be gone in an instant.”
James made his comments near a poster board bearing the words, “Rest Easy,” and happy-times photos of his brother, Brandon Howe, 27, and his sister, Brianna Howe, 20. Illuminated by glass-encased candles lying in the ground, the collage of pictures was part of a makeshift memorial for his siblings.
A day earlier, at approximately 5:15 a.m., Brandon and Brianna were killed in a T-bone crash at that intersection — a short distance away from where James stood Saturday evening — when a driver allegedly ran a red light, according to Maryland State Police.
Cecil County Department of Emergency Services medics pronounced Brandon and Brianna dead at the crash scene, police reported.
Based on the preliminary investigation, a silver 2011 Honda Civic driven by Brandon entered that intersection to make a left turn from southbound Delaware Avenue to eastbound Route 40, according to police. Brandon had a green light when he entered that intersection, police reported.
At the same time, a grey 2017 Dodge Ram pickup truck driven by Dale Brown, 55, of Perryville, on westbound Route 40 entered that intersection through a red light and crashed into the driver’s side of the Honda.
Friends and family told the Cecil Whig that Brandon had recently finished his shift at the Amazon distribution center near North East and was driving Brianna, his front-seat passenger, to her job at Aldi grocery store near Elkton, about a mile east from where the double-fatal crash occurred.
Brown refused medical treatment at the scene, police reported.
Alcohol does not appear to be a factor in the collision, according to police officials, who further reported that charges, however, may be pending after the investigation is completed and troopers consult with the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office.
On Saturday night, with that picture poster board serving as one of the tangible ways to remember Brandon and Brianna, approximately 150 people attended a candlelight vigil for them in the Squire’s Dairy Delight parking lot.
Across the eastbound lane of Route 40, two wooden crosses in remembrance of Brandon and Brianna stood in the median strip.
Toward the end of the vigil, an Elkton Police Department officer placed flowers on the ground near those crosses at the behest of the family after parking his patrol car, with emergency lights flashing, near the intersection.
Then purple balloons were released, floating high into the night sky before disappearing from sight.
People hugged and cried at different points during the vigil, with some of those embraces lasting for moments.
It made a big impression on Chris Howe, who had driven up from his North Carolina home after learning that his nephew and niece had been killed in Friday morning’s crash.
“To see grown men that I don’t even know crying over my niece and nephew shows me the love and affection everyone had for Brandon and Brianna,” Howe said, pausing for a few seconds and then commenting, “It hurts because they left so many friends behind, but it also fills my heart because of the outpouring of love that I’m seeing here tonight. I am moved by it.”
Howe served as a point-person for Charles and Tina Howe, the parents of Brandon and Brianna.
“They’re having a very, very difficult time right now, as you can imagine. They are devastated,” Howe said.
Amid the somberness of the vigil, friends of Brandon and Brianna still were able to laugh as they remembered them.
“Brianna had a goofy sense of humor. Brandon had more of a dry sense of humor,” said Kelsey Beale, 20, an Elkton-area resident who attended the vigil with her sister, Tori, 15, and their friend, Kayli Babylon, 20.
Kelsey said she met Brianna when they attended Elkton Middle School together.
“She was my best friend, and she was my first roommate. She lived with us a few times and was always at our house. I consider her my family,” Kelsey said.
Babylon and the Beale sisters chuckled as they talked about Brianna’s affinity for felines.
“Brianna loved cats. She had one named Oreo and another cat, a black one named Raven,” Kelsey said.
One of Brianna’s coworkers, a woman named Marguerite, told the Cecil Whig that Brianna started working at Aldi shortly after graduating from Elkton High School in 2016.
“I worked with Brianna for two years. She was a sweetheart and she was a hard worker,” Marguerite said. “We are trained across the board, so sometimes she would work in the deep freezer, unloading pallets. It is really hard work, a lot of lifting, and she did a great job.”
Meanwhile, Brandon was an uplifting person, according to his uncle, who always had been aware of that quality in his nephew, even though, living in North Carolina, Howe didn’t see Brandon and Brianna as frequently as he would have liked.
For Howe, the vigil brought Brandon’s positive traits into even sharper focus.
“From talking to his friends at the vigil — I don’t know their names — he’s a genuine man, always with a smile on his face, always happy,” Howe said. “I talked to one of his fellow Amazon employees and he said Brandon was a fun person to be around. He had a knack for taking a sad moment or a bad thing and turning it all around. He had a way of fixing it, putting a spin on the situation, and making it all good again.”
According to Howe, Brandon battled Crohn’s disease, which can be a painful condition. But as best as Howe could tell, it seldom, if ever, dampened his nephew’s outlook.
“He would keep a persona of happiness,” Howe said, adding, “I remember picking him up from the hospital once to take him home. When I got there, he got a big smile on his face. You could tell he was in pain, but he still smiled. He said he was happy to see me and it showed.”
Directly after the vigil concluded, Elkton resident Dawn Steele stood alone at the edge of the Squire’s Dairy Delight parking lot for several minutes, weeping as she stared at the two crosses across the highway. Steele identified herself as a childhood friend of Tina Howe, the mother of Brandon and Brianna.
“I’m devastated. I’m in utter shock. I can’t even image what Tina is going through right now,” she said.
Steele was dealing with many emotions.
“I have twins who will be driving soon,” Steele said, before turning her attention to the crash that killed Brandon and Brianna and remarking, “He was just trying to get her to work. It was a red light. How hard is it to stop at a red light?”
Meanwhile, James, who was crouching beside the makeshift memorial several yards away, was not in the frame of mind to speculate on how the crash that killed his brother and sister happened. He focused, instead, on the outpouring of support he had just witnessed during the vigil.
“It’s really comforting. It shows me that Brandon and Brianna touched a lot of lives in this town. And even though they’re not here anymore, people have all these good memories of them,” James said.