Bench, tree to be installed at William Paca/Old Post as memorial to Tripp Johnson, killed earlier this year

In addition to the memorial to Tripp Johnson at the accident site where he was killed, a tree and bench are being installed as a memorial to the 7-year-old at the school where he was a second-grader, William Paca/Old Post Elementary in Abingdon.
In addition to the memorial to Tripp Johnson at the accident site where he was killed, a tree and bench are being installed as a memorial to the 7-year-old at the school where he was a second-grader, William Paca/Old Post Elementary in Abingdon. (Erika Butler/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun)

A bench will be installed and a tree planted between the two buildings at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School as a memorial to Tripp Johnson, the 7-year-old who was killed in a car crash on Route 24 in March.

“This is still such an emotional topic for us because we miss Tripp,” Principal Tammy Bosley said. “His grandmother still works here and really, as a school community and I believe as a Harford County community, we want to keep Tripp’s memory alive in any way possible.”


Tripp, a second-grader at the Abingdon school, was one of two people killed in a 12-vehicle crash March 11 on Route 24 near the intersection of Ring Factory Road. Andrew Klein, 65, president of Klein’s Family Markets, was also killed when a ShopRite tractor trailer slammed through 11 other vehicles that had slowed for traffic.

The driver of the tractor trailer, Carloo Watson, 49, of New Brunswick, N.J., was indicted in August on two counts of gross negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, two counts of criminal negligence manslaughter by motor vehicle, and four counts of causing serious injury while using a cellphone.


Watson’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 27 in Harford County Circuit Court, although a motion for a postponement was file in court earlier this week.

The bench at William Paca/Old Post is being supplied by the Young Professionals Network of the Harford County Association of Realtors and the red maple tree is being donated by and planted by Chesapeake Landscapes LLC in Pylesville.

Kathy McFadden, CEO of the Harford Association of Realtors, said the bench, with Tripp’s name on it, and tree will be planted in a garden area between the schools, and can be a place of reflection, where people can sit and remember Tripp.

“It’s something that will be there for a long time, even for years and years that people will know what it meant to have this young man at the school," McFadden said. "Even if they didn’t know Tripp, they know that this young man impacted people all over the county and what a great story to his life. A lot of us didn’t know him personally, but obviously he was a very special boy.”


The Young Professionals Network didn’t have a connection to Tripp or his family, but members of the group and the entire association, like the rest of the community, were devastated following the crash and wanted to do something in memory of him, McFadden said.

“It’s really just about making sure people remember him and what a wonderful human being he was,” she said.

Brad Georg, owner of Chesapeake Landscapes, didn’t know the Johnson family, either, but having grown up in Harford County, he wanted to contribute to the county where he still lives and runs his business. “It’s a give-back,” Georg said.

Tripp loved the outdoors and being outdoors and he loved birds, so it makes sense that a tree is being planted in his memory, Bosley, the school’s principal, said.

“We still talk about him a lot here and we don’t want that to stop," she said. “We want this memorial to spark stories about him here and everything he’s touched.”

Tripp’s grandmother, Debbie Johnson, is a paraeducator at William Paca. Bosley said Johnson wants the stories about Tripp to continue because he touched so many people’s lives in such a short amount of time.

“Debbie is convinced Tripp was an angel sent here, he did what he needed to do in the amount of time he was with us and now he’s gone on to do other things,” Bosley said.

The principal keeps a picture of Tripp on her desks — one in each building — at William Paca/Old Post. It’s from a Patriot assembly at the school.

“When I look at it, I think ‘there’s nothing I can’t do today,’” Bosley said. “People just don’t understand, when this child smiled ... we never saw him not smile. He just has this smile that was contagious and you just felt it when you walked in the room.”

This will the second memorial to Tripp. His father created a memorial at a sign near the intersection where his son was killed. It’s a small garden with a wooden cross with Tripp’s name on it and a rock border. It’s decorated for each holiday, Bosley said, and is currently adorned with a Santa Claus, evergreens and poinsettias for Christmas.

According to Harford County Public Schools policy, memorials on school grounds must be approved by the superintendent and the board of education. The school board unanimously approved the memorial at its meeting Monday night.

The cost of the project is $1,380, according to school documents.

With the approval, the bench can be installed and the tree planted, which Bosley said she hopes will be before the weather gets too cold.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun