With the wind blowing at the Astoria Column, Kristen Sands had trouble lighting her candle. So she used the inside of her boyfriend’s motorcycle helmet as a shield until she finally was able to light the flame.
Sands then placed the helmet near the memorial for the man who once wore it.
Friends and family gathered Wednesday night at the Column for a candlelight vigil for Damian Burrell, 30, of Warrenton, who died Monday in a motorcycle crash on state Highway 202.
Originally from Baltimore, Burrell moved west a few years ago and checked in at Astoria Pointe, a drug and alcohol treatment center. After he became sober, he worked at the treatment center, which recently closed.
People who knew Burrell spoke of his wisdom, selflessness, happiness and sense of humor. Since many of them, like Burrell, are transplants who moved to Astoria to escape a past life, they form a surrogate family.
“A lot of times that means not going back to the place that we’re from because the risks are too high,” Charlie Chancellor said. “Damian is the person that really shined the most.”
Michael Chicurel recalled checking in at the treatment center last year a few days after leaving jail, having not showered and with a half-full suitcase in hand. Burrell, who completed his intake paperwork, immediately assumed a mentor role.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be standing here, and I probably wouldn’t be on this planet anymore,” Chicurel said.
Garrett Haskins, another friend who overcame substance abuse, said Burrell shared a connection with his 2-year-old son, Gregory. He watched a video Wednesday of Burrell holding Gregory as the toddler laughed.
“He kept looking at him and saying, ‘Stylin’ and profilin’ cuz,’” Haskins said.
Max Johnson also spent time in treatment and recalled living with Burrell. He likened their living situation to the movie “The Odd Couple,” with Johnson being the tidier roommate. Still, they shared plenty of laughs, and Burrell checked in with him regularly.
In the years they knew each other, Johnson noticed an evolution.
“The real Damian came out and developed into a remarkably hard-working young man with goals,” Johnson said.
Burrell started working in the shipping department at Lektro in 2017. Though his co-workers recalled plenty of belly laughs, Burrell was known as a hard worker.
When not working, Burrell would spend hours fixing and cleaning his car and the recently purchased motorcycle. He sometimes spent late nights writing poems and songs.
Sands spoke about the many times Burrell would cheer her up through his sense of humor. Even when she was mad, one look from Burrell could reverse her mood.
She would often hide when he arrived home, prompting a game of hide-and-seek. When he would find her, Burrell’s excitement was overflowing.
Burrell’s mother, Eileen Jackson, thanked everyone who attended the vigil.
“I can only hope Damian can see how much he was really loved,” Jackson told the dozens of people holding candles.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help offset Burrell’s funeral costs. In the one day after the page was created, 41 people donated $3,335.
“He died clean and sober, which not a lot of people get to do,” Chancellor said. “It wasn’t really long, but he got to be the Damian he really was — a really good person.”