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Almost every week, Michael O’Hearn, from Readsboro, Vt., takes care of a section of land on Route 9, in Marlboro, Vt., where his granddaughter, Kayla Lackey, was killed back in April of 2005.

MARLBORO — A sight that dots America’s roadways — sometimes a cross, or flowers, or a monument that often gets lost to time — marks the locations where families’ lives changed forever.

Among these sights on Route 9, a spot in Marlboro, is where a little girl was killed in a head-on crash by a person under the influence in 2005. The marker is still maintained by her grandfather, after more than 17 years.

Michael O’Hearn, from Readsboro, remembers the day when he received word about the crash on April 4, 2005. He was 50 years old at the time, driving a truck in Chicago when he got the call in the afternoon.

Stephen Fairchild, 24, from Wilmington, driving under the influence of drugs, veered into the opposing lane, striking the car of Erin Lackey, the mother of 8-year-old Kayla Marie Lackey, on Route 9 in Marlboro. Fairchild and Kayla died at the scene. Erin suffered a broken arm and several contusions and the two children in the back, nephews of Erin, had minor to no injuries.

It’s still hard for O’Hearn to talk about his granddaughter without tearing up.

“She was a beautiful young lady, long blonde hair. Loved her cat, Rosie. Loved butterflies,” said O’Hearn. “Loved life and she drew people to her with her personality.”

The original memorial was right along the roadside where the crash occurred, but the state told the family they could not have it so close to the road. The family knew the woman who owned the land where the crash occurred, and she allowed them to move it up to the tree on the embankment.

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O’Hearn visits the spot where his granddaughter died almost every week to mow the grass, pick up the sticks that may have fallen, and clean up the pink cross that has Kayla’s photo on it.

“Just out of my love for my granddaughter, she meant a lot to me. We spent a lot of time together as she was growing up,” said O’Hearn. “Her and her parents lived in our house for quite a while before they got into their own house (in Jacksonville, Vt.). So we got very close. Just out of respect for her and I know it means a lot to my daughter that I do that.”

On top of the pink cross, because pink was Kayla’s favorite color, there rests a little tiara that she wore because she was her family’s little princess.

In the winter, O’Hearn does not get to that spot often, but come spring, he is back at it to make sure it is looking nice. In the fall, he takes care of the leaves and trims the bush planted there.

O’Hearn talked about what he thinks could keep people safer on the roads, to maybe prevent another cross to mark a tragic death.

“Because I drive for a living, I see so much stuff that doesn’t need to go on. Things happen because it’s the people driving the roads, not the roads themselves,” said O’Hearn. “If you’re paying attention and doing your job of driving your vehicle, (drivers should be) maintaining the proper speeds in the areas, because they’re there for a reason.”

Kayla died just 19 days before her 9th birthday, and if she was still around, she would be 26. O’Hearn said she would be just as she was, but more involved in the community.

So as the sun goes down in Marlboro, and the little solar lights glow on the cross and the tiny butterfly lights come to life, the memory of Kayla Lackey will not be forgotten, and that spot will be loved for years to come.

Photographer / Multimedia Editor

Has been working as a photojournalist since 2007, before moving into newspapers, he worked with an NGO called Project HOPE. He then went to work for the Press and Sun-Bulletin in New York, and then in New England working for the Brattleboro Reformer.