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Grieving mother returns to Whidbey Island

Terral Adams kneels beside her son
Terral Adams kneels beside her son's headstone in a Oak Harbor cemetery. Adams' son William Dayton, 22, was killed in an industrial accident in Freeland on Feb. 7, 2005.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Terral Adams

Woman looks for answers in son's death.

The journey back to Washington was an emotional one for a Medford, Ore. woman. Terral Adams returned to Whidbey Island last week to see her son's just-completed headstone, marking her boy's final resting place in an Oak Harbor cemetery.

Adams is the mother of William Dayton, the 22-year-old who was killed at Nichols Brothers Boats Builders in early February when a helicopter fell on him.

The helicopter, a drone owned by defense contractor Northrop Grumman, was being moved from its display spot on the X-Craft, the experimental Navy ship built at the Freeland boatyard.

The visit to the cemetery did not provide closure for the grieving mother, however.

Adams, who has two other children, also learned that Northrop Grumman -- the manufacturer of the drone that crushed her son -- is appealing state -imposed penalties from the accident. The penalties were less than $2,000.

"It was just $1,500; that's all," Adams said.

State penalizes both companies

The Department of Labor and Industries cited Northrop Grumman for three serious violations after investigating the accident.

The company is not commenting on the incident, said Dan McClain, director of media relations for Northrop Grumman.

The accident is far from over for Adams. She's spent weeks studying the state's investigation of her son's death.

She lugs around a briefcase filled with pounds of paper. Inside are copies of investigative reports including eyewitnesses' testimony, and a Xerox picture of the accident scene where her son's body lay covered with a sheet.

The heavy briefcase is a burden she willingly carries as she fights for justice for her son.

"It took me three weeks to get through the reports. It was hard to read the details of the accident. I would read a little, then take a break," she said.

She recalls the weeks following the accident. Adams had several conversations with Matt Nichols, CEO of Nichols Brothers.

"He asked me what I wanted from him," Adams recalled. "I told him I wanted to know the truth about the accident and how something like this could happen."

Adams says she wants everyone involved "to stand up and admit a total lack of regard for proper crane procedure, which ultimately caused the death of my son."

"I don't want this swept under the carpet to save their 'good names' -- Northrop Grumman, Titan Corporation and Nichols Brothers. They all are negligent from the beginning of this evolution, and I will do whatever I can to make sure they will not be negligent in the death of others like they were with Will, who was just beginning to live his adult life," she said.

The companies involved with the X-Craft project have little say about the accident.

"We are very sorry that it happened," said Nichols attorney Lynn Hicks. She declined to comment specifically on the accident.

Woman continues search for answers

Adams visited the boatyard the day after the accident.

"I had to see where it happened," she said.

Adams remembers the drone sitting collapsed in the yard.

"I was drawn to it. Two distinct hand prints were visible, I know they belonged to Willie. Everyone around me said, 'No, they are the hands of the person trying to lift the drone off of your son,'" she said.

Adams doesn't believe that.

"The fingers were facing up," she said. "I knew right then they were Will's handprints, and he had been directly under the drone with his hands on the nose helping to raise the drone so they could get the angle they needed to get a square peg through a round hole."

"I then touched the hand prints and told everyone around me that they were my son's," Adams said.

She said she was told again that Will was never underneath the drone.

"Now that the L & I report is final and I have read the witness statements, I know that I was right. I was lied to," Adams said.

She also said she wasn't willing to leave it at that.

"I made a promise to Willie that I wasn't going to let go. I am going to make sure the authorities do their job," Adams said. "This is important to all workers in the state of Washington who deserve safe work environments, and who need to be able stop when they think a job is unsafe."

Adams recalled sitting through the hearing on the penalties levied against Northrop Grumman, and how a company representative told the judge the company was not responsible for her son's death. The next hearing is in Seattle on Dec. 19. Adams will be there, too, she said.

Adams and Dayton's father, Ed Dayton of Coupeville, have hire an attorney but have not filed a lawsuit.

She may be pressing the issue of worker safety outside the rooms of a courthouse. Adams has been asked to testify before the state Legislature in January on a bill that would allow parents to sue for punitive damages.

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