Idaho Republicans mourn death of 22-year-old party official, memorial at Crystal Ballroom Friday

Dedra Morris, the administrative assistant for the Idaho Republican Party, died Sunday in an automobile accident in Eastern Washington. Morris was returning to a friend’s home in Spokane from a supercross motorcycle race in Seattle when the accident occurred, about an hour west of their destination.

According to the Washington State Patrol, the driver, former BSU student Joseph “Jay” Branda, fell asleep at the wheel shortly before 3:30 a.m. The car, which belonged to Morris, rolled and she was killed on I-90 near Ritzville. Branda survived. Both were wearing seatbelts; alcohol and drugs were not a factor in the accident, said police.

Morris, 22, was a former president of the College Republicans at Boise State, where she graduated with a bachelor’s in political science in 2012.

A memorial for Morris will be held Friday, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Crystal Ballroom on the second floor of the Hoff Building at 8th and Bannock streets in downtown Boise. (NOTE: The celebration of Morris’ life was originally announced to be held in the Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium.).

“Dedra was a very special, wonderful woman,” said Jonathan Parker, the former executive director of the Idaho GOP. “She brought a lot of smiles to many peoples’ faces.”

Parker hired Morris as an intern in 2010. After six months at the Boise office, Parker said, he was so impressed with Morris he created a paid position, which she held while she continued her studies.

When Joshua Whitworth replaced Parker as executive director eight months ago, he relied on Morris. “She was my wingwoman,” Whitworth said. “She kept everything going. She was a bright presence for everyone.”

Both Parker and Whitworth said they came to think of Morris as a little sister.

Parker and five other friends will meet Tuesday afternoon at the watering hole where Morris was part of a weekly happy hour group, the Taphouse Bar in Downtown Boise. They’ll be making plans for the service, Parker said. “It’s really sad.”

The six friends organizing the service are Parker, now a lobbyist; Shoni Pegram, a special assistant to Gov. Butch Otter; lobbyists Jesse Taylor and Colby Cameron; and former congressional aide Phil Hardy, who does commentary on 580 KIDO radio. They have established a Facebook page, “Remembering our Friend, Dedra Morris.”

Said Hardy: “Her role in the party cannot be understated. She knew everyone and was the glue that kept it going. And she knew her policy and had strong opinions.  She was going to be a leader.”

Morris was from Yerington, Nev., a town of about 3,000 that is the Lyon County seat, southeast of Reno. She was the first child in her family to go to college, Parker said.

She is survived by her mother, Brenda Sellers of Yerington, father Carl Morris of Boise; brothers Wesley Morris of Boise, Edward Sellers Jr. of Yerington and Eric Bonse of Mountain Home; sisters Tara Bonse of Hawthorne, Nev., and Bridget Banta and Branden Smith, both of Yerington. She also is survived by her grandmother, Amy Morris of Nampa, grandparents Nancy and Gary Richardson of Fallon, Nev., and stepfather, Pat Bonse of Yerington.

Her family will hold a memorial western style barbeque at her mother’s home in Yerington, at noon on May 11, said her mother. To RSVP or make lodging arrangements, call Pat at (775) 316-0018 or Brenda at (775) 316-1255.

Parker said Morris and Branda dated while at BSU and remained friends. Branda invited Morris up for the weekend and bought tickets for the Monster Energy Supercross, which drew almost 54,000 fans to CenturyLink Field in Seattle Saturday night. “She loved motocross,” Parker said.

On her drive to Spokane, Morris had lunch Friday in Coeur d’Alene with Angela Ippilito-Cross, the wife of Region 1 GOP Chairman John Cross. She was to have met with party regular Jake Uhlenkott in Cottonwood on Sunday on her way back to Boise, Parker said.

Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson issued a statement Monday mourning Morris. “Let us ever be grateful for God, family, loved ones, the goodness of life and the freedoms we enjoy, as we remember the joy that Dedra brought to the lives of all those that knew her,” wrote Peterson.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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