Rollin Gray left an impression.
The 61-year-old Frederickson man made friends golfing, playing the banjo onstage, riding his Harley around town and raising money for fellow veterans.
He was riding his motorcycle home about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday when, a block and a half from his house, a 16-year-old lost control of his car while street racing with a classmate and crashed into Gray.
He was thrown several feet into some shrubs. A neighbor and the teen driver pulled the bike off the gravely injured Gray, who begged them to take care of his 17-year-old son at home.
Those were his last words.
Gray was taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma with severe injuries to his head, back and leg. He underwent three surgeries back to back but never regained consciousness before dying Thursday.
His wife of 10 years, Becky Gray, was holding his hand.
In addition to his wife, Gray is survived by his son Rollin Earl Gray, 17; daughter Nicole, 29; and two grandchildren.
Becky Gray remembers the first time she met her husband. He found her on an online dating website and sent her a photograph.
“It was a picture of a skinny guy holding a banjo and he was cute as dickens,” Becky Gray recalled Friday.
They chatted online for a long time before Gray persuaded her to stop by his house on her birthday. His bluegrass band, Round the Bend, was just getting started then, but he had them play “Happy Birthday” to her.
Becky Gray was smitten.
As a young man, Gray joined the Navy, which is something of a family business, and spent years working on big aircraft carriers. He served in the Vietnam War and Desert Storm.
Afterward, he worked at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, where he helped tend to other veterans. His next venture was operating a dump truck company he managed and drove for until medically retiring.
In recent years, he gave time to the Combat Veteran Motorcycle Association, which raises funds to support fellow veterans and their families.
That’s where he met Gary and Dawn DeJarlais.
“He loved his motorcycle, he loved his family, he was an amazing guy,” Dawn DeJarlais said. “He was always right there for his friends and he never turned anybody away. Everything was positive, even the negative. He was genuine.”
She laughed remembering how people could hear his bluegrass music blaring on his Harley before seeing him ride up.
Gray loved music, fishing and golfing. He loved road trips with friends and helping others.
His motorcycle riding began as a young boy and grew into an obsession when he was about 13.
He was asked to appear in the final scene for the 1971 documentary, “On Any Sunday,” a film about racing enthusiasts that won an Academy Award nomination in 1972.
In one scene, Gray jumped his motorcycle over a camera operator .
“He was always larger than life,” Becky Gray said. “He would walk in a room and talk to everybody in the room. Nobody escaped. And everybody got a big hug, a real hug.”
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the collision that killed Gray and destroyed his 2006 Harley Davidson.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer gave this account of the wreck:
A 16-year-old Spanaway boy with a learner’s permit and an 18-year-old friend in the passenger seat ran into another boy from school at a gas station and chatted about his 2004 Dodge Stratus and the other boy’s 2004 Acura TSX.
Later, witnesses said, the boys were racing west on 182nd Street East reaching speeds of 90 mph. The Acura passed the Dodge in the eastbound lanes and then cut in front of the Dodge.
The teen driving the Dodge lost control of the car, which crossed into oncoming traffic and hit Gray’s motorcycle. It then crashed into a mailbox and a fence.
The Acura driver sped off. The driver and the passenger in the Dodge stayed, helped pull the motorcycle off Gray and waited for deputies.
Drugs and alcohol are not believed to be involved in the collision.
Deputies cited both drivers and released them. Prosecutors will decide whether to file charges.
Becky Gray doesn’t want to place blame on anyone but she can’t stop thinking about why teenagers were out driving so late. Why their parents weren’t watching them closer. Why they were driving so fast in a residential neighborhood.
“The ‘whys’ keep going through my head,” she said. “Rollin didn’t have a chance.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653