Rincon Valley teen remembered for poise, character

  • Santa Rosa Bible Church was filled to capacity during a memorial service for 14-year-old Marcus Johnson in Santa Rosa, Calif., on March 24, 2013. Marcus Johnson was killed in a freak accident at a race track in Marysville, Calif., when a car driven by his cousin went out of control and flew off the dirt oval. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Nearly 2,000 people filled a Santa Rosa church Sunday to honor the memory of a 14-year-old boy whose accidental death at a racetrack caused a community to reflect on his poise and character.

Marcus Johnson, an eighth-grader at Rincon Valley Middle School, was unabashed in the warmth he showed his younger brother Hayden in school hallways and in the respect he showed his teachers, said Rich Cundall, a pastor from Hessel Church in Sebastopol.

"He'd shake the hands of adults and opened doors for people," said Cundall, who opened Sunday's two-hour service at the Santa Rosa Bible Church on Badger Road.

Marcus Johnson Memorial Service


Johnson was watching a sprint car race in Marysville on March 16 when his cousin's car failed to make a turn on the track, possibly when the steering wheel came off. The car flew about 200 feet into the track's pit area, crashing into Johnson and another bystander, Dale Richard Wondergem Jr., 68, of Grass Valley, who also died.

On Sunday, hundreds of people filled the pews in the main sanctuary at the Rincon Valley church as speakers shared memories of Johnson. Hundreds more watched a live broadcast from auditorium bleachers and folding chairs in the hallways.

Johnson was a competitive basketball player and in the seventh generation of a pioneer Sonoma County family with deep ties to sprint car racing.

The broad-smiled, blue-eyed boy was remembered as having graceful athleticism, boundless enthusiasm and an empathy for others that stood out.

Johnson ran the most laps at Sequoia Elementary School's annual fundraising "walk-a-thon" during six of the seven years he was a student there.

"The sun was fading, the DJ was packing up the booth, and there was Marcus, drenched in sweat. We had to pull him off the track," Principal Matt Reno said.

The school renamed the award for the most laps the "Marcus Johnson Golden Shoe Award."

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