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Memorial Set For North Bay Teen Killed In Racetrack Crash

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Cousins Marcus and Chase Johnson

Cousins Marcus and Chase Johnson (Family Photo)

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SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — The family of a 14-year-old Santa Rosa boy who died when he was struck by a race car driven by his cousin during pre-race warm-up laps at Marysville Raceway Park on Saturday evening are planning a public memorial for him this Sunday.

Bob Johnson, the grandfather of Marcus Johnson and the race car driver Chase Johnson, 17, of Penngrove, said the details of Sunday’s memorial are still being worked out. A private funeral will be held Saturday.

Marcus Johnson, an eighth-grader at Rincon Valley Middle School in Santa Rosa, was in the pit area when Chase Johnson’s race car went off the track and struck him and 68-year-old Dale Richard Wondergem Jr., of Grass Valley, around 6 p.m. Saturday, Yuba County Undersheriff Jerry Read said.

Wondergem was pronounced dead at the scene, and Marcus Johnson died shortly after he arrived at Rideout Hospital in Marysville, Read said.

Bob Johnson, 68, who owns the Johnny Franklin muffler shops in Santa Rosa and San Rafael with Marcus’ father Rob and Chase’s father Don, said Rob Johnson held his son’s hand the entire time at the hospital.

“Rob said his heart’s rhythm was going up and down before it stopped beating. Then they gave him a shock and his heart started beating again but stopped again,” Johnson said.

Johnson said Marcus’ mother, Gina Johnson, was in Los Angeles caring for her father, who is ill.

“Rob had to call her to tell her Marcus was dead,” Johnson said.

Gina Johnson has since returned to Santa Rosa.

“She was telling me, ‘Marcus has blue eyes’ and she started crying, ‘Marcus has soft hair’ and she started crying, ‘Marcus plays basketball’ and she started crying. She cried for three days,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he told his son Rob that it was going to be all right.

“He looked in my eyes and said very seriously, ‘No, it’s not going to be all right. My son was killed,’” Johnson said.

Auto racing is in the Johnson family’s blood. Both Chase and Marcus started racing go-karts when they were 5 years old, Johnson said.

Family members are very close and have dinner together on Tuesdays, Johnson said.

The Johnson family started the Johnny Franklin business in 1962 in Santa Rosa and opened the San Rafael store in 1973.

Chase, a senior at Petaluma High School, and his father Don Johnson also are devastated, Johnson said.

“Chase wanted to win the Petaluma Speedway championship, but I don’t know if he wants to race anymore,” Johnson said.

The Johnson family is well known at the Petaluma Speedway.

A post on the raceway’s website reads, “Our thoughts prayers and condolences go out to the Johnson and Wondergem families after the tragic accident at Marysville Raceway Park on Saturday night during the scheduled Civil War Sprint Care Series event.”

The Yuba County Sheriff’s Department is investigating witnesses’ statements that the race car was traveling at about 90 mph when it left the track, and that the removable steering wheel had detached, Read said.

The sheriff’s department has impounded the race car, Johnson said.

“Either the shaft broke or the steering wheel came off the car,” he said. “It makes a click sound when it’s locked in. Maybe Chase heard the click when it went on but maybe something happened.”

It would not be unusual for the car to be traveling at 90 mph, Johnson said.

“You have two warm-up sessions to get the car ready. You want to rev it up to 90,” Johnson said.

The wings on the race car are like airplane wings but are upside-down, Johnson said.

“It holds the car to the ground instead of lifting it up like an airplane wing,” he said.

Johnson said the crash happened on Chase’s seventh lap.

Marcus Johnson was sitting with his father but left to use a restroom, Johnson said. He and Wondergem were struck by Chase’s race car when he returned moments later.

“What are the odds of that happening. Chase runs over Marcus, who is coming back from the bathroom. It’s just impossible,” Johnson said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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