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Great-grandparents blame custody laws for child's death

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LONGVIEW, WA (KPTV) -

Six people received organs from Noah Waite-Brown.

His great-grandparents hope the 8-year-old will have another legacy. They plan to tell his story to legislators in an effort to change laws that do not currently grant grandparents rights to custody or visitation.

"This could have totally been avoided, totally," said Carol Johnson of Longview. "Noah could have lived if we hadn't been made to put him in that car with his dad."

Waite-Brown died this week after suffering critical injuries in an April 14 car crash that also killed his father and injured five other people.

Oregon State Police say Brown was driving with Waite-Brown and Brown's 7-year-old son on Highway 30, west of Clatskanie.

According to OSP, the car crossed the center line as it went around the curve and crashed head-on into another vehicle, carrying four people. The cause is still being investigated.

Brown died at a hospital. Waite-Brown was transported with critical injures. The other boy in the car had minor injuries. The driver of the other car suffered critical injuries, while her three passengers suffered minor injuries.

The crash happened during a weekend visit ordered by the courts while the Johnsons and Brown were fighting for custody of Waite-Brown.

Waite-Brown lived with his mother and her grandparents, the Johnsons, until her death earlier this year. The Johnsons were granted temporary custody, with the boy spending weekends with his dad.

The Johnsons, who believe Brown was unfit to parent because of a criminal history that includes a drug-related offense in 2004, were seeking permanent custody. They say the court system was working against them.

Carol Johnson would like to see the law changed so that "it would be looked at who was the best capable of taking care of the child, not proving who is unfit, because by the time that you prove they're unfit, it's too late."

Brown's family members said he was a devoted father.

"All he ever wanted was to take care of Noah is because Noah was everything to him," said Mellie Manning, his sister. "How many dads are out there that want nothing to do with his children and here Luke is. All he ever wanted was Noah, his little boy."

She said her brother treated chronic pain using prescription painkillers and had a medical marijuana card before Washington legalized pot, but stopped using so it wouldn't interfere with his parenting.

A bill that would give grandparents the right to seek visitation passed Washington's House of Representatives, but is currently stalled in the Senate.

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