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Memorial for Man Killed in Murrieta Crash Draws Hundreds

A week after Richard "Dick" Johnson died in a head-on collision on Clinton Keith Road, several hundred friends and family gather to celebrate his life.

Several hundred friends and family members filled a Murrieta church Thursday to celebrate the life of Richard "Dick" Johnson, who died in a head-on collision last week.

"It is an amazing tribute to Dick to see so many people here that loved him as much as he loved us," said Eric Dransfield, bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Murrieta Hills' ward, where Johnson attended regularly since the 1980s.

Johnson, 84, was the father of six and had just celebrated his 47th wedding celebration to his wife, Nina, on July 4.

There was his love for football and horses--he lived by his own "cowbody code," friends said--but his family was his first love, all agreed. He had three daughters, three sons and several grandchildren.

Each of his sons spoke to the crowd, sharing bits of the life they shared with their father.

"He loved his family, his friends, and the friends he was about to make," said his son, Michael.

Johnson was born March 18, 1927, and grew up in St. John, Kan., a small town of a few hundred people. He played football in high school and went on to play in college for Pasadena City College and University of California, Santa Barbara.

Johnson converted to Mormonism in his 30s, said Dransfield, and was married a short time later.

His father and grandfather were in the car business, so Johnson followed in their footsteps as did son, Richard. Johnson owned a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Costa Mesa for 25 years.

"He taught me how to sell cars, and later how to sell horses," Richard Jr. said.

The Johnsons own Diamond J Ranch in the La Cresta area of Murrieta, which is where he lived out his love for horses. At one point, he served as the president of Rancho California Caballeros. The group was formed in 1970, inaugurated by a three-day trail ride in the hills near Murrieta.

His sons spoke of him taking rides often, during which he would find a shade tree to sit and write his next poem. His poems reflected his strong faith, the last of which he wrote on July 4 as a gift to his family on his 47th wedding anniversary.

It was through church, football, the car business and the equestrian community that Johnson adopted a large circle of friends.

Paul Diffley, school board president for the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, knew Johnson for 13 years. Diffley's wife, Pamela, said Johnson would sometimes celebrate his birthday for a week--friends invited.

Diffley said the amount of people who came to pay their respects was "appopriate for a man who touched so many people."

No mention was made of the fatal crash that took Johnson's life. He was driving on Clinton Keith Road on his way home to La Cresta the evening of July 6 when a driver heading in the opposite direction entered his lane. Johnson was rushed to the hospital, but pronounced dead within less than an hour.

, but is out of the hospital now, according to Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad. The Murrieta Police Department is investigating the crash as DUI-related, and has ordered toxicology reports on the driver.

Following the memorial service, Johnson was buried at Laurel Cemetery in Murrieta, near the foothills of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.

Johnson planned much of his funeral, down to the last detail. Family members found instructions tucked in his Scriptures. A horse led the procession into the cemetery, and those who had ridden with Johnson were asked to bring dirt from the trails to be added during the burial.

A memorial ride in Johnson's honor is planned in the near future in La Cresta.

Melanie Griffin July 18, 2011 at 02:16 AM
We moved to Murrieta in 1996 and were privileged to know and love this amazing man for 14 years till we moved to Texas last year. He took a personal interest in each of my 5 children and touched our lives in so many ways. He loved everyone and was loved by all. Oh, how we will miss him.

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