PARRISH — A graceful pine tree along U.S. 301 has special meaning for Karen Mason.
It’s where her late husband and 6-year-old daughter died in a horrific car accident after they were hit by a drunken driver, who also died at the scene.
Muffett and her then 3-year-old son, Tyler, survived the 1996 wreck, but its memory will never leave them.
That’s why they planted the wispy Norfork Island pine near 121st Avenue East and U.S. 301, near where the accident occurred, a short distance from their home.
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Each year at Christmas, they decorate it to honor the memory of their loved ones, David Harper, 30, and Amanda Harper, 6.
“It was two-foot when I planted it, and now, it’s 20 or 30 feet,” said Mason, who is now 41 and remarried to a firefighter.
It’s in the same spirit that highway engineers are preparing to move the pine, which is in the path of a $21 million upgrade of the highway from Old Tampa Road/Erie Road to C.R. 675.
The pine will be moved about six-tenths of a mile down the road and replanted in Mason's front yard, she said.
“It’s in the right-of-way,” said Rolf Brautigan, project manager for Woodruff & Sons, Inc., of Bradenton, the general contractor working on the highway project that threatens the tree.
He said his company respects what occurred at the site, and is planning to move the tree rather than destroy it, adding, “We obviously want to do what’s right.”
Their sympathy means a lot to Mason.
“Every day, when I go by, I say a little prayer,” said Mason, whose son, Tyler Harper, now is a strapping 16-year-old.
“Everybody’s been real nice,” she said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.