The Applegate River flows placidly past the place where three South Medford High School graduates died in a car crash a year ago.

The Applegate River flows placidly past the place where three South Medford High School graduates died in a car crash a year ago.

"It's real peaceful," said Lester Thibeault. "You can sit and listen to the birds and see ducks. The other day an eagle came down and took a fish out right there."

Thibeault, Chuck Ross and John Bergin have created a simple memorial to their 18-year-old sons — Jonathan Thibeault, Kyle Ross, and David Bergin — who died there June 20, 2006.

The boys were on a camp-out with friends. Ross was driving his black 1994 BMW 740 sedan to a campsite at about 12:15 a.m., but lost control as he took a curve at more than 80 mph. An Oregon State Police investigation found the teens had been drinking before the crash.

In the year since the crash, the three fathers have carved out a path, roughly following the route the speeding car tumbled, to the river bank. They've cleared away brambles and trash. The tree, which the BMW hit before landing upside down in the river, now has wind chimes and a basket of live plants hanging from its branches.

Lester Thibeault set out a bench that Jonathan used to stack his skateboards and other stuff on at home. Now friends and family can sit along the river and leave their thoughts in a log book stored in a teak box.

"A river has so many meanings in people's lives — whether you're spiritual or religious," Chuck Ross said. "The flow of a river is a cleansing thing."

Across the river, the teens' friends built three hillside crosses and, this week, the fathers placed solar lights to illuminate them.

On Tuesday, the eve of the crash's anniversary, nearly 50 people gathered at dusk to talk and pray and remember the boys in a candlelight vigil.

Ross pointed out that exactly one year earlier the teens had been together, celebrating.

"It was a great time to express things about life, not death," he said of this week's gathering.

Ross notes that the three families were long-time friends before the crash, but dealing with their children's deaths has created a unique and powerful bond.

"This has made it deeper and stronger," he said.

Ross said he and Thibeault had skied together and he and Bergin golfed together and coached their sons' youth soccer team. Now they have lunch together monthly, around the 20th, to share feelings and fellowship, he said. Bergin chose not to speak publicly about his son's death.

Ross and Thibeault have reached out to other grieving parents — the family of a South Medford grad killed in a motorcycle crash in Arizona; the parents of Shane Watson, an 18-year-old killed in a Big R forklift accident in November. They've seen the spark of recognition that only a parent who has lost a child can understand.

"When you have life experiences, you want to share," Ross said. "God allows things to happen for reasons and this gave us a chance to share with other people this year."

Both Ross and Thibeault said they were grateful for the ways people in the community had reached out to comfort and support them in the past year.

"It's a day-to-day thing," Ross said. "It has its ups and downs, but life continues."

Just like the river's flow.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or at aburke@mailtribune.com