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Ski-accident victim left many friends and students in Yakima

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009, 8:41 a.m.

WHITE SWAN, Wash. – Justin Cottrell always left his mark.

At White Swan High School, track records that Cottrell made in the early 1990s are still intact, a mark of his love for sports.

Long pieces of beige paper hang around the teacher’s fifth-grade classroom at Harrah Elementary with questions such as “How will you respect your family?” a mark of his desire for his students to excel not just in school, but in life.

And in the belly of Shala Cottrell, his wife of nearly three years, is a baby, due in April, a mark of a loving marriage.

In the days after his death, friends and family members in Yakima, Harrah and online have shared how much they miss their friend and relative.

Cottrell, 33, died Saturday from a skiing accident at the Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho.

He was skiing on one of the resort’s trails when he lost control and collided with a tree just before 10 a.m. Saturday, said John Williams, the resort’s director of marketing.

The Silver Mountain Ski Patrol responded to the accident and transported Cottrell to Shoshone Family Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, Williams said.

Cottrell grew up in Harrah, graduating from White Swan High School in 1994. He then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Washington University and Heritage University, respectively, before starting his first teaching job at Harrah Elementary two years ago.

“He didn’t want to make a difference just anywhere; he wanted to make a difference here, where he grew up,” said Juliana Cottrell, his 31-year-old sister.

His enthusiasm for teaching fifth-grade math and science was obvious to his co-workers and students. Charles Cook, the principal at Harrah Elementary, remembers the various hands-on activities Cottrell would do with his students, such as raising salmon.

He also remembers Cottrell’s desire to know his students’ parents, calling them not only when students were bad, but to praise students for the good things.

Cottrell was also involved with the Mt. Adams School District math team, which worked to improve the district’s math curriculum.

“He was very eager to learn new approaches and constantly applied what he learned in class,” Cook said.

To better speak to his students and parents, Cottrell taught himself Spanish and would practice his new language skills at every opportunity, even when he didn’t have the right words to say, said Natalie Cottrell, his 29-year-old sister.

Family and friends also remember Cottrell for his constant smile, sense of humor and his love of outdoor activities such as skiing and hunting.

With his passing, friends and family have offered an outpouring of support and prayer.

On Facebook, friends have posted status messages saying, “Pray for Justin Cottrell’s family and friends” and “Regretting the loss of a great friend. RIP Justin Cottrell.” Cottrell’s Facebook page has messages from friends offering support for his wife and his unborn child.

In Harrah, where mother Patty Cottrell still lives, a table is filled with memories of his wedding day, his love of funny movies and his dog Coco, whom he trained to climb ladders. On Monday, the house was crowded with friends and family comforting the Cottrell family.

And in Yakima, where Justin and Shala Cottrell lived, friends worked together to raise money and other resources to finish remodeling the Cottrell house. Justin Cottrell bought a fixer-upper after he got married and spent the past two years remodeling it.

“His focus was getting the house ready for his new family,” said Juliana Cottrell.

And now friends will finish remodeling that home, a mark of the love and respect their good friend.

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